Life after Wenger is going to be weird, but exciting


For the first time since 1996, Arsenal will enter a Premier League season under new management. What’s it all going to look like?

The 2012-2013 season will always hold a special place in the hearts of Manchester United fans. Not only did they win the league for the second time in three attempts, but they did so in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final year in charge. It was the best way he could exit: On his own terms and at the top.

Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal tenure, which will forever be compared to Ferguson’s, didn’t end quite so well. The Gunners finished in the top four every year under Wenger, until the past two seasons. The days of his teams battling Manchester United for trophies were long gone, and despite spending a significant amount of money, Wenger couldn’t build a serious contender. “Wenger out” became a meme. It was hard to find an Arsenal fan who wasn’t fed up with the situation. He revolutionized English soccer, but by the end he appeared out of his depth.

In what was called a “mutual decision,” the Frenchman stepped down as manager with a year left on his contract.

Arsenal, 22 years after appointing their greatest ever manager, will have a new man in the dugout in 2018-19: Unai Emery.

Emery is best known for leading Spanish club Sevilla to three straight Europa League titles, before taking over at Paris Saint-Germain in 2016. His stint with the French club had its ups and downs, but was ultimately considered a disappointment, mainly because he failed to win the Champions League.

There will be no such expectation at Arsenal, at least not this season, mostly due to the fact they didn’t qualify for the Champions League. However, their best shot to get back into the tournament might be to win the Europa League, where Emery had so much success with Sevilla.

And Arsenal seem like a better fit for his managerial style than PSG. He’s known for his meticulous training ground notes, tape study and rigid structure, something a few star players in Paris reportedly weren’t too thrilled with. That style should suit Arsenal, though, as they don’t have a player of Neymar’s skill and star power in the side. If the players buy in, they could reap rewards.

That style of management will likely be the biggest change for the players and fans alike. Late in Wenger’s reign, there were rumors he had become increasingly laissez-faire in terms of training ground preparation and tactics. Wenger, often to a fault, valued intricate, attacking soccer more than results. His 2015 quotes in L’Equipe described his philosophy perfectly.

“I am only a guide,” he said. “I allow others to express what they have in them. I have not created anything. I am a facilitator of what is beautiful in man.”

Wenger allowed his players to play how they wanted. He guided the talent and let it speak for itself. Emery is different. He prefers structure and rigor over beautiful soccer. Results matter more than style. It might come as a culture shock to some veterans, but that was probably necessary after two dismal seasons.

Emery has also been aggressive in the transfer market, another welcome change. He identified the weak spots in the team early and went out to strengthen them. Petr Cech tailed off drastically last year, so Emery brought in German keeper Bernd Leno. Arsenal have needed a true defensive midfielder for years, and Emery brought in Lucas Torreira, a 22-year-old who impressed with Uruguay at the World Cup.

The rest of the squad will look similar to last year. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil and Hector Bellerin are still going to play pivotal roles most matches. The structure and tactics might be different, but the players haven’t changed too much. The Gunners are unlikely to challenge for the title, but a top-four finish would be considered a success in Emery’s first year.

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It’s going to be weird, though. That much we know. Wenger was in charge for 22 years. The last time Arsenal had a different manager, Tupac was still alive. The first Mission Impossible had just hit theaters. E.R. was the biggest show on television. Wenger’s name is synonymous with the club. For many younger fans, he’s the only Arsenal manager they’ve ever known.

The change, however, is a good thing. Preseason has been met with a nervous excitement, as opposed to an accepting sigh. The sense of the unknown, after so many years of the same old Arsenal, is reason enough to be excited for the coming season. And we’ll probably get to see at least three matches before an “Emery Out” signs appear.