Unai Emery is the right man at the right time for Arsenal

Paris Saint-Germain's Spanish headcoach Unai Emery reacts during the French L1 football match between Caen (SMC) and Paris (PSG) on May 19, 2018, at the Michel d'Ornano stadium, in Caen, northwestern France. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images)
Paris Saint-Germain's Spanish headcoach Unai Emery reacts during the French L1 football match between Caen (SMC) and Paris (PSG) on May 19, 2018, at the Michel d'Ornano stadium, in Caen, northwestern France. (Photo by CHARLY TRIBALLEAU / AFP) (Photo credit should read CHARLY TRIBALLEAU/AFP/Getty Images) /

Unai Emery is the right man at the right time to replace Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager.

Mikel Arteta was supposed to replace Arsene Wenger until Arsenal pulled a fast one. The Gunners have opted to hire Unai Emery as manager, according to BBC Sport’s David Ornstein:

Emery wasn’t the hottest name amid the slew of coaches linked with the job. He isn’t as well-regarded as Juventus tactician Massimiliano Allegri.

Nor does he offer the excitement former skipper and current Manchester City assistant coach Arteta might have created in his first attempt at a big job. Emery can’t even offer the pedigree in the Champions League boasted by Carlo Ancelotti and Luis Enrique.

In fact, Emery’s last notable achievement was to get fired after two seasons in charge at mega-rich Ligue 1 giants Paris Saint-Germain. Make no mistake, though, he’s no token appointment.

The Basque tactician fits the bill perfectly for post-Wenger Arsenal in three key areas.

He’s used to having limited power

Arteta reportedly backtracked on the job amid concerns about how much say he would have over transfers. Both David Woods of the Daily Star and The Independent’s Miguel Delaney reported how Arteta was wary about what his remit would be under chief executive Ivan Gazidis, head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and head of football relations Raul Sanllehi.

The new Arsenal boss is expected to fit into a governance structure in the mold of many continental clubs. Gazidis is the overseer, assisted by Mislintat and Sanllehi.

It’s a triage effect which sounds wonderful in theory. Gazidis will set the direction, while Mislintat, who unearthed a gem or two at Borussia Dortmund, will find the bargains in the rough to help Arsenal overcome their fiscal inferiority compared to the likes of City, Manchester United and Chelsea in the Premier League.

Deals will get done quicker now Sanllehi is handling things. The land of milk and honey surely awaits. Yet the practical reality would be very different if a new manager was reluctant to cede power and responsibility.

Fortunately, Emery is used to having somebody dictate a transfer strategy for him. It happened at Sevilla, where noted talent-spotting guru Monchi ran the show.

Things can be similar at PSG, with the club’s Qatar-backed owners inclined to dictate transfers.

Emery has coped with the interference admirably. He’s used what he has been given in creative ways.

Monchi himself gave Emery a glowing endorsement, per ESPN’s Matt Scott:

Emery’s ability to build around take Monchi’s signings and make them work at Sevilla resulted in three-straight Europa League trophies. His willingness to build PSG around world-record import Neymar and precocious loanee Kylian Mbappe led to a domestic treble on French shores this term.

The post-Wenger Gunners are being built to dilute the responsibility of the manager. It’s a structure many would baulk at, but one Emery has been used to.

Where many of Arsenal’s candidates have had reservations about the club’s new multi-tiered decision-making processes, Emery will navigate them without much fuss.

European success

Success on the European stage was the one thing even Wenger failed to deliver. It was telling how the Frenchman spelled out his biggest regrets when speaking to BT Sport (h/t the London Evening Standard‘s Richard Parry):

"My biggest regret is that I have not won the Champions League for Arsenal… I was 13 minutes away.The other regret is perhaps the way we went out against Atletico Madrid. I still don’t understand how we could lose this two-tie game. We should have been done after the first game."

Emery’s history proves he can progress Arsenal in Europe, since the north London club only have the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and the ’94 Cup Winners’ Cup to their credit. Three Europa League wins in a row with Sevilla surely appealed to a club facing another season in the competition.

His critics will point to Emery’s failings to get PSG over the hump in the Champions League. He famously oversaw the now legendary collapse against Barcelona in the knockout phase during the 2016-17 season.

Les Parisiens held a 4-0 advantage after the first leg, but lost 6-1 at the Camp Nou. There was more misery this season when Real Madrid saw off PSG 5-2 on aggregate at the same stage.

Yet those exits shouldn’t besmirch Emery’s other successes in the French capital. He won the Coupe de France twice and also earned a pair of Coupe de la Ligue trophies. The Ligue 1 title was added in thrilling fashion this season by a team good enough to score 108 goals and collect 93 points.

His work at PSG shouldn’t excite Arsenal fans as much as how well Emery has performed on a budget.

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He can do more with less

Arsenal are no longer the force they were during the peak Wenger years. Not in terms of spending power or prestige.

A second season without Champions League qualification has knocked even more lustre off the Gunners. Reports of a £50 million transfer budget before player sales means the club are still dwarfed by the fiscal muscle of City, United and Chelsea.

Emery can be an equaliser of sorts for this financial disparity. He has produced some of his best work on limited budgets.

FourFourTwo‘s Michael Yokhin noted how Emery took Almeria to a first ever promotion to La Liga in 2007. An eighth-placed finish in Spain’s top flight the following year laudably represented “Emery’s lowest ever league finish in a full season as a manager.”

What followed was a rebuilding job at Valencia, where Emery took Los Che into the Champions League three seasons running.

As impressive as the league finishes, Emery unearthed and developed a host of talent at both clubs. Yokhin detailed how holding midfielder Felipe Melo and striker Alvaro Negredo were his cornerstones in Almeria, while Juan Mata, Jordi Alba and Ever Banega became stars at the Mestalla on Emery’s watch.

Presnel Kimpembe and Giovani Lo Celso, both 22, became key players at PSG this season.

A manager with this keen an eye will surely make use of Arsenal’s burgeoning academy. Youngsters such as Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles should be in for more playing time.

Emery’s tactical habits will also be a good fit for Arsenal’s senior personnel. Get French Football detailed the formation he prefers:

The Gunners have played some version of a 4-2-3-1 for years under Wenger. It means the transition will be an easier one for key holdovers such as Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Those same players will likely be more willing to learn from an established figure such as Emery. By contrast, Arteta may have meant little to Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan, aside from the fleeting memory of having played against him for Dortmund in the Champions League in 2013 and ’14.

Credibility is a currency Emery offers, while the 46-year-old is still young enough to fit the new youth-based structure Gazidis has wanted.

The biggest reason Arteta’s appointment may have backfired is the response it likely would have generated from some Arsenal fans. Supporters have been embroiled in a protracted, simmering civil war during the latter years of Wenger’s tenure.

Delaney recently wrote how the club is “highly conscious of the genuine need for excitement after so much discord among the fanbase.”

Those fears appear well founded after certain supporters groups promised protests against majority shareholder Stan Kroenke if Arteta got the job, per James Benge of the London Evening Standard.

Benge noted how anti-Kroenke protest was literally in the air during Wenger’s final game, the 1-0 win over Huddersfield:

Arsenal’s former midfielder taking his seat in the dugout would have been wedging salt into an open wound.

However, hiring Emery can provide a smoother post-Wenger transition. He will maintain a style of play pleasing on the eye and begin filling the void in Arsenal’s European achievements.

Emery and his history of winning can also, temporarily at least, quiet a still-fractured fan base.