Premier League spotlight: The Unai Emery era begins at Arsenal
Words by Alex Rabeau
As we approach the 2018/19 Premier League season, the Arsenal fan is relishing in some much-deserved exciting times. After 21 years at the helm of the Gunners, Arsène Wenger announced his resignation as manager back in April and opened the door to a new chapter at the Emirates Stadium. It was a joyful day for some — notably the Wenger out movement — yet a nostalgic day for most. It is unquestionable that under Wenger, Arsenal reached new heights. The level of analysis that he provided to the game had not been seen before in the Premier League. However, towards the end of his tenure a sense of stagnation became synonymous with the squad. A new manager has now been appointed in the form of Unai Emery. With achievements such as three consecutive Europa League victories coupled with 7 domestic trophies during his 2-year term at Paris Saint-Germain, a sense of hope has been restored to the North London side. Will Unai Emery be the man to restore Arsenal to the days of the unbeaten season of 2003-04?
There have been fundamental strategic and physical shortcomings at Arsenal in recent years that have frustrated fans. However, steps have already been made in the right direction, notably in rectifying defensive weaknesses that have been relentlessly exploited these last few seasons. The signing of ex-Borussia Dortmund player Sokratis undeniably bolsters our centre back options. Acquiring Bernd Leno, one of the most exciting goalkeeping prospects in European football at the moment, will certainly rectify the mistakes made by an ageing Petr Cech last season. Further, the signing of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira shows that proper consideration towards the role of defensive midfielder has been taken — a role which arguably hasn’t been fulfilled since the years of Patrick Viera. Lastly, the signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner on a free transfer will both contribute much needed experience to the defensive line as well as provide a comfortable Hector Bellerin with competition for the position of right back. At the other end of the pitch, Emery will need to unlock the plethora of attacking potential that we possess. With the likes of Aubameyang, Lacazette, Özil and Mkhitaryan, under the right coaching, Arsenal can have one of the most lethal attacking sides in the entire Premier League.
The Gunners have looked particularly strong during the preseason matches these last few weeks. A 5-1 victory over PSG coupled with a convincing 2-0 win against Lazio would have been especially satisfying. Beyond the scoresheet however it appears that even having only managed Arsenal for a couple months, Emery has been able to ignite a new style of play amongst the team. The slow-paced strategy of holding possession synonymous with Wenger has been replaced with a more pressing, counterattacking approach. Encouraging signs of a more creative style of football have been witnessed throughout this preseason.
As is always the case however there are still reasons to worry. At the time of writing Aaron Ramsay, who has captained Arsenal for much of this preseason, has yet to sign a new contract, increasing the risk that we have to let him go for free at the end of this season. There is also instability at higher levels within the club as the future of CEO Ivan Gazidis, remains in question given rumours of his departure for AC Milan. On top of this, the season kicks off with a challenging start as Arsenal will face current title holders Manchester City at home on Sunday. Regardless of this however, I believe that the managerial proficiency of Unai Emery coupled with the abundance of talent at his disposal will drive Arsenal into a new era of success. I will certainly be on the edge of my bar stool excitingly watching it unfold.