Unai Emery

Where it went wrong for Emery at Arsenal

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There were many highs and lows of Unai Emery‘s stewardship of Arsenal FC, but arguably the moment where things turned for the worst came away from the perfectly manicured grass at the Emirates Stadium.

Heading into the summer, it was clear that Arsenal needed more help defensively. Emery’s signings of Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi were a good sign, showing that Arsenal was committed to finally plugging a hole in defensive midfield that hadn’t been filled since Patrick Vieira – former coach Arsene Wenger always preferred a Jorginho type passer in that position, but they’d be overrun against every big-six opponent.

[READ: Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal?]

But at centerback, the team was woefully overmatched. Shkodran Mustafi looked like a shell of himself, Laurent Koscielny was still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, and prospect Rob Holding suffered a torn ACL, meaning he was out for the season.

So the last thing Emery could afford was losing one of his best remaining centerbacks, in maybe the worst way possible. And yet, that’s essentially what happened.

Koscielny returned to training on July 5, and per the Guardian, made it clear that if he didn’t have a new contract by next week, or perhaps at least some progress on a new deal, he would be holding out. That meant the Arsenal club captain wouldn’t be traveling with the squad to the U.S. for preseason training.

This seemed to take Arsenal’s leadership by surprise. In the 2018-2019 Premier League season, Aaron Ramsey and the club weren’t able to meet in the middle, and so Ramsey let his contract run out and freely traipsed to Juventus. But Ramsey never made a fuss on the training pitch over his contract negotiations. He was a professional on and off the field and let his play do the talking.

Koscielny, on the other hand, wasn’t having it. Perhaps emboldened by his stature at Arsenal and that a new manager was at the helm – would he have done this against Wenger? – Koscielny never got on the plane to America. One month later, he completed a permanent transfer to Bordeaux, and Emery never appeared to recover as Arsenal manager. Before the end of the calendar year, Arsenal fired Emery.

The Koscielny case – and other similar recent mishaps by Emery, such as the captaincy fiasco and freezing out Ozil only to bring him back in recently – paints a picture of Emery as a brilliant tactician with average to below average man management skills. We have that here in the U.S. There are plenty of brilliant minds who coach football and basketball, but devising clever plays is worthless if you can’t get your team to understand the plays and execute them. What makes coaches like Bill Belichick and Steve Kerr successful is getting the buy-in from their players and managing them along the way. Tactics is only half the battle.

On paper, even with a creaky defense and a young midfield, this Arsenal team shouldn’t be languishing in ninth place. But it was clear as the weeks went on that Emery was essentially powerless to stop the sieve of goals into Arsenal’s net. Each week it was a different culprit, whether David Luiz, Sokratis, new signing Kieran Tierney or Calum Chambers. Under another manager, perhaps those four could raise there level. Under Emery, with everyone seemingly playing just for themselves, their levels sunk below the opposition.

At the same time, despite the $87 million Arsenal committed to spend on new signing Nicolas Pepe to go with stars Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, they didn’t click in attack as often as they should have. Aubameyang continues to score but his goals often grab a point or a late, often undeserved win, for the Gunners. They were not blowing teams apart even with their vast array of talented attackers.

Emery wasn’t all bad at Arsenal. He brought positivity back to the Emirates Stadium in the 2018-2019 season with his new energetic signings like Guendouzi and Torreira. Fans won’t soon forget the 4-2 win at home over Tottenham, where the roof nearly blew off on Torreira’s wonderful second half goal. There was also wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, plus Napoli and Valencia in the Europa League, but Arsenal was struggling in the Premier League around the time of the latter two wins.

Off the field, by all reports Emery was a true gentleman to everyone at the club. And although some disgustingly made fun of his accent, Emery always tried to communicate in English when he could have easily just brought along a translator for every interaction. He tried his best to integrate himself in the club and in England.

But this season, Emery could never find his mid-season momentum again from last year, and things began falling quickly. Emery will certainly get another opportunity to coach in top-flight football, and perhaps he’ll eventually learn from his mistakes. However, it’s a second-successive coaching failure in which Emery lost control of the locker room due to poor man management skills, and his firing was ultimately inevitable.

Arsenal players react on social media to Emery’s firing

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After taking some time to digest the news, many Arsenal players went public on social media with their thoughts on Unai Emery’s Friday firing.

In general, most of the players, even those who preceded Emery but mainly the ones he signed to the club, showed their appreciation for his faith in them as players. The players lamented almost to a whole that they weren’t able to deliver for Emery. The near-universal support for Emery is interesting, considering that Arsenal was regressing as the season went on.

Could it be that this team doesn’t have the talent to content for the Premier League top four? Or was Emery’s tactical ideas too difficult for the players to execute? Either way, Emery clearly made an impression on many of the players. It remains to be seen how the Gunners respond to this on Sunday at Norwich City.

Here’s a sampling of some Arsenal player’s responses on Friday afternoon.

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Coach, Thank you for all that you have done for me, I would never be grateful enough. You made me grow up as a football player but also as a man. I have progressed enormously and you helped me to take many steps forward. If I reached those levels today it’s thanks to you and your huge work you have done for me. You are a great man and a great coach. I wish you a lot of happiness and success in your future projects. Thank you for everything Coach 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽 Coach Merci pour tout ce que vous avez fait pour moi, je vous en serai jamais assez reconnaissant. Vous m’avez tellement fait grandir en tant que footballeur mais aussi en tant qu’homme. Si j’ai atteint ce niveau aujourd’hui c’est grâce à vous et votre travail. J’ai énormément progressé et franchi de nombreux paliers. Vous êtes un grand homme et un très grand coach. Je vous souhaite pleins de bonheur et de succès dans vos futurs projets. Merci Coach 💪🏽💪🏽💪🏽 @unaiemery_

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Meanwhile, Mesut Ozil had a – slightly -different post-Emery message.

Emery writes letter to fans, club after sacking

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Arsenal published a letter ostensibly written by Unai Emery on Friday, in which he thanked the club for his chance to manage in the Premier League and urged Arsenal fans to back the players.

It’s a rare moment of class and gratitude from an outgoing manager, who usually has nothing nice to say about the club that’s called time on his or her job earlier than expected. In this case, Emery succinctly summed up his last 18 months at Arsenal, from taking over with high expectations to the club’s recent struggles both in the Premier League and in the Europa League.

With a previous track record of success at Sevilla, and at least winning league titles at PSG, it was expected that Emery could help take Arsenal back into being one of England’s top teams, one challenging for the title. And yet, replacing Arsene Wenger proved more difficult that expected.

It has been an honor to be the Arsenal head coach.

To all the fans, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for helping me to understand and feel the greatness of Arsenal. To all of you who have supported us from every corner of the globe, all of you who have come to the Emirates, all of you who have waited in the rain and cold just to greet me after a game. I want to tell all of you that I have worked with passion, with commitment and with effort.

I would have liked nothing more than to have achieved better results for you.

I also want to send a message of gratitude to all Arsenal employees for the way they have treated me. The greatness of Arsenal is in every director, executive, employee, assistant and volunteer.

In particular, I want to highlight Ivan Gazidis, who welcomed me to the club, and Raul Sanllehi, Edu and Vinai Venkatesham for their respect, companionship and help. Until the very last minute I have been treated with honor and honesty. And of course, I send my sincere gratitude to the Kroenke family, for their trust.

It has been a year and a half full of emotions, of great moments and some other more bitter ones, but not a single day has gone by without me stopping to think about how lucky I have been to work for this club with these players and their professional and personal qualities.

They have always honored the shirt they wear. They deserve your support.

I had already experienced a lot in football, but I have enjoyed and learned a lot in England, in the Premier League, about respect for professionals and about the purity of football.

My best wishes always.

COYG

Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal?

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Following news of Unai Emery’s firing as Arsenal manager, the club announced that its search for a new manager is already underway.

[ MORE: Unai Emery fired by Arsenal ]

With the Gunners set to face Norwich City in Premier League action on Sunday (Watch live, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and NBCSports.com), interim manager Freddie Ljungberg is almost certain to take charge of at least one game before Emery’s successor takes the reins.

According to reports, Arsenal had previously contacted Jose Mourinho as a potential replacement for Emery, in the event they decided to make a change. Following Mourinho’s appointment as new Tottenham Hotspur boss a week ago, some figures at Arsenal are said to be upset at missing out on the Portuguese.

[ MORE: Emery: “We are better than we are showing” ]

Below is a look at the current bookmakers’ favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal, listed in the order of who is favorite.

  • Massimiliano Allegri (unemployed) – The clear-cut favorite, at almost even odds. The thinking here would be that Allegri is a proven winner (five Serie A titles and four Italian Cups at Juventus), but so was Emery when he was hired (three straight Europa League titles). He’s been out of a job since leaving Juve at the end of last season and has been linked with every major managerial job since then.
  • Nuno Espirito Santo (Wolverhampton Wanderers) – Unlike Allegri, Santo is a proven PL manager, only he comes without the same (read: any) winning pedigree of the Italian. After guiding Wolves to the EFL Championship title in 2018, he then took them to a seventh-place finish (and UEL qualification) in the PL last season.
  • Mikel Arteta (Manchester City, assistant) – Previously an Arsenal player (2011-2016) and now an assistant under Pep Guardiola, Arteta has been linked with a number of high-profile jobs in the last two years, including Arsenal back when Emery was hired. For him, it’ll likely hinge upon the succession plan at Man City: Guardiola never stays at one club for too long, so does Arteta believe he’ll be given a chance to take over?
  • Mauricio Pochettino (unemployed) – Pochettino has long since claimed he will never manage two clubs — Barcelona and Arsenal — out of principle after managing rivals Espanyol and Tottenham Hotspur. Alas, the bookmakers can’t help themselves from stirring the pot in north London.
  • Rafael Benitez  (Dalian Yifang) – Potentially a very sensible, if slightly underwhelming, option. Reports have him leaving China very soon, at the end of the Chinese Super League season. If nothing else, Benitez would get Arsenal defending and make them highly functional, if lacking the kind of flair that fans have come to expect.
  • Carlo Ancelotti (Napoli) – Somewhat out of left field, but potentially available for no compensation after a rough start to his second season at Napoli (seventh place, 15 points back of leaders Juve).
  • Eddie Howe (Bournemouth) – Forever tabbed a long-odds option, because the bookmakers need an English name to add to the list.

Unai Emery fired by Arsenal

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Unai Emery is out at Arsenal after 18 rocky months in charge, the north London club announced on Friday.

[ MORE: Who are the favorites to replace Emery at Arsenal? ]

“The decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required,” the club’s statement read a day after losing to Eintracht Frankfurt at home in the Europa League. Longtime Arsenal midfielder Freddie Ljungberg, previously a member of Emery’s first-team coaching staff, has taken over on an interim basis.

The club’s search for a new manager is underway. Speaking on behalf of the Arsenal board and our owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Josh Kroenke said:

“Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success.”

The Gunners haven’t won a Premier League game since Oct. 6 (three draws and two losses) and currently sit eight points outside the top-four.

[ MORE: Emery: “We are better than we are showing” ]

The Arsenal Supporters’ Trust (AST) chimed in, calling Emery’s dismissal “unfortunate but inevitable” and the “more difficult challenge is to recruit a suitable successor.”

“We are far from certain that Arsenal has the right personnel to lead this process. The AST has long been advocating that the most important changes needed at Arsenal are in the boardroom where Arsenal need better governance.”