Unai Emery must go.
This is not one of those post-defeat, rage-fuelled tantrums but a conclusion I came to after a long reflection.
I held this back until after the Carabao Cup game against Nottingham Forest to avoid any connection between to over-laborious win against Aston Villa in the Premier League and my piece.
I’ve been in Emery’s corner until now but I cannot find any good reason for him to be the Arsenal head coach any longer because things simply don’t add up: the gaps between what he says and the reality is getting wider and I don’t see any coherence in this; I don’t see the bigger picture, I don’t see the masterplan, I don’t see any direction.
My big problem with Unai Emery is that I don’t see where he wants to take this team; I could understand any struggles he may face in implementing ideas and tactics but I can’t stand the mayhem we are finding ourselves in, at the moment. This would be my first question for Unai Emery, if I had the chance to talk to him: what is your plan for the Arsenal, Unai?
I started playing football at the age of 4 and deeply enjoyed every minute of it, whether it was in my backyard with my friends or on some forgotten pitches with my team; I loved football well before the Arsenal came into my life and I want to enjoy football, while supporting the Arsenal. I want to see a purpose, whatever it is, when the lads in red and white come on the pitch and I don’t feel anything like that.
When he was first unveiled as the new Arsenal head coach, he was asked what would be the characteristics of an Unai Emery team and how he likes his teams to play. Here is his reply, quoted from Arsenal website:
“With personality. This personality for all the minutes of a match: protagonists. I like the possession with the ball, I like good pressing against the other team. I prefer to win 5-4 than win 1-0.”
Where is all of the above, Unai?
Whether we play at home or away, against a direct rival or a team fighting to avoid relegation, we regularly surrender possession and sit back to hit on the counter; we don’t press our opponents at all, either, and we become passive instead of being the protagonists.
This is the antithesis of his own principles, his own idea of football and I find it impossible to support someone who doesn’t stand for his own beliefs.
The early signs were encouraging, though: the team was diligently playing out of the back despite some evident struggles, to suggest the idea that there was a plan and it was being developed; we saw some bold decisions being made, some astute tactical substitutions being sanctioned and we could see what the head coach had in mind.
One could easily adhere to that change of habits, refreshing approach and positively “trust the process”, a catchphrase that soon became very popular.
His man-management was very straight forward: you perform, you play; you don’t, you come off – whatever your name, salary, status. It was a very welcome change but didn’t last.
Slowly, as the deceptive unbeaten run came to its natural end, we became more and more conservative, more and more passive and ended up relying on Aubameyang and Lacazette to produce a moment of brilliance and win us games. In a ludicrous quest for immediate satisfaction and results, Unai Emery gave up all his beliefs and changed the formation to a back-three, packed the midfield with extra bodies and made Sead Kolašinac our only offensive outlet, from his left wing-back position.
It almost paid-off, though, but eventually the lucky streak ended in a very ignominious way with the away defeats to Everton, Wolves and Leicester, the home defeat against Crystal Palace and the home draw to Brighton, the final nail in our hopes to break into the top four.
The journey was marginally better in Europe but we all know how it ended in Baku and how pitiful that night was, unfortunately.
At this point, I was still in Unai Emery’s corner because this wasn’t entirely his team and it was also his first season at the Club, in a new league; give him time, I was saying, let him shape his own team and let’s see what happens.
He didn’t. It feels like the entire first campaign was a wasted opportunity, instead of a learning curve; I’d have imagined that he would assess his players, draw the conclusions, tell the Club what his needs were and improve the team over the summer, filling the positions he felt needed improvement and asking for players that would fit his philosophy.
Unfortunately, despite one of the most proficient and exciting summers we had in recent times, the team is still without an identity and without direction, with players constantly played out of positions and a general tactical chaos. The squad is today much better than it was one year ago but there’s no sign of improvement on the pitch, so far: we are still excessively conservative in our approach, we haven’t improved defensively and we don’t offer much going forward.
If Unai Emery’s preferred plan was to sit back, soak-up the pressure and hit the opponents on the counter, I would be fine with that; it is not the kind of football I like but I would see a purpose behind it, I would see the point.
I don’t see anything at all, I see formations and styles changing non-stop, I see players being rotated non-stop and I see a manager who looks lost.
If there was a plan, an idea, an effort to implement a specific strategy or approach – I don’t like to use the word philosophy when talking about football – I could defend Unai Emery and stay in his corner for as long as it would take to prepare the players but there is no such plan; I give him credit for improving our record against the other top-six teams and for blooding some very talented youngsters like Mattéo Guendouzi and Joe Willock but it basically ends there.
My gut feeling says that we are progressing very well as a Club but not as much as a team, with a manager who’s being regularly exposed for the lack of any substance behind his words; he came in and dazzled everyone with his tactical astuteness, his extreme attention to details, his profound knowledge of the team and reserves, his USB stick and tons of videos, his unexpectedly good level of English and his plan to make the Arsenal “protagonists”.
Today Unai Emery is getting caught off the guard by a high-pressing Burnley at home, he’s tactically surpassed by a Watford team that had just changed manager, he’s criticized for the fact that the team is making the same collective mistakes over and over and we’re still having a hard time to understand what he is trying to say during his press conferences – while he slowly turned into a living meme with his “good ebening”.
This sounds like stalling to me; the sooner we move on, the better.