Trailing the illustrious footsteps of an iconic figure is usually herculean. Especially when it involves a damned dugout. Unai Emery, however, has so far handled that task at Arsenal with aplomb. It now seems like an eternity ago Arsene Wenger departed the Emirates.
Ignore Jose Mourinho’s brutal digs, Wenger is still the best thing to happen to Arsenal and perhaps English football. Although the second half of that two precious decades didn’t go as hoped, Le Professeur’s legacies are pretty much preserved. His exquisite brand of football utterly revolutionised the Premier League.
In Emery, the Gunners envisaged a distinct dimension. He was never going to command the respect of his predecessor nor implement similar possession-based style. Despite remarkable successes at Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain, the Spaniard wasn’t expected to bring an instant solution to the club’s dwindling fortunes.
But surprisingly, Emery’s impact has been swift. Following successive defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners picked up quite strongly. Nine wins on the spin, an incredible 27 goals scored have propelled them to fourth place on the log. Table toppers Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool are only two points afar.
Nowadays, the name Wenger has rarely muttered round these parts anymore. The rumblings of discontent which occupied the steps leading from Arsenal tube station to The Emirates pitch have subdued. The faithful are beginning to dream, optimism is at an all-time high.
“We’ve got our Arsenal back,” fans chanted as their side cruised towards an impressive 5-1 win at Fulham. It has taken the Spaniard a little over four months to completely change the mood at Arsenal. All the discord of recent seasons has gone and, for the first time in a while, there is real excitement about the direction the Gunners are moving in.
A lot of factors are responsible for the drastic upturn of fortunes. The intensity of the Spaniard’s meticulous sessions is, perhaps, the single biggest shift from the Wenger era. Training is high-octane and fiercely competitive. Emery believes training should mirror match conditions. He even had an outdoor gym built close to the first-team training pitch.
“He demands a lot, we are working a lot harder in training, running a bit more,” Alex Iwobi revealed. “But as you can see, we are buying into his ideas and we are enjoying our time with him.”
Wenger showed some level of respect for big-name players. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil were untouchables. More often than not, the Frenchman allowed emotions sprinkled with sentiments get a better of team selection. Decision-making wasn’t purely on merit but pedigree and hefty outlay.
It’s a different case with Emery. The Spaniard’s choice of team is based on form and preferred system. The likes of Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan have occasionally lost their places. Every member of the squad seems to be enjoying the healthy competition for spots.
Emery is far more involved in direct coaching than Wenger. Players have found the Spaniard’s sessions engaging and refreshing. There was a feeling training had gone stale under Wenger — nobody is saying that is still the case. Tactical sessions can be arduous and time-consuming but Emery’s attention to detail has impressed the squad.
He spends more time focusing on the tactics of the opposition than Wenger. Players were taken aback by the level of information they were given before the first game of the season against Manchester City, with a detailed plan to nullify Pep Guardiola’s side. That would never have happened under Wenger.
Written by Toby Prince
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby
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