#JDSays: Arsenal fans must see Unai Emery as the right man for Gunners

John Dykes John Dykes

John Dykes is surprised that not all Arsenal supporters are happy about Unai Emery’s appointment as Gunners manager.

Sometimes something makes too much sense for everyone to agree about it. Arsenal’s appointment of Unai Emery as Arsene Wenger’s replacement, for instance was a “no brainer” and I said as much in a fairly straightforward Tweet when it became obvious he was about to be unveiled. The response surprised me, as Arsenal fans embarked on an impassioned debate about what struck me as a calculated and sensible piece of recruitment.

More than 100,000 people viewed my Tweet, most agreeing with my opinion that the Spaniard is “in tune with the modern game, a serial trophy winner at big clubs”, apart from those staunch Gooners who decided it was important to debate the word “big”. So, I pointed out that Valencia have appeared in twice as many Champions League finals as Arsenal and Sevilla have won more than twice as many European trophies as Arsenal. I didn’t even bother mentioning Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), where Emery landed seven trophies in two seasons. But that sort of “twitter spat” is beside the point in my opinion.

The real debate should not have been about the value of the Europa League, French football or even Emery himself. Nor should the incorrect reports saying Mikel Arteta was going to get the job have been allowed to distract our attention from the really important issues. Instead, there were two key things to establish when assessing the manager’s suitability for the role.

Firstly, where are Arsenal right now in the scheme of things? In terms of their competitiveness in the Premier League, they were way off Manchester City’s pace this season (along with everyone else) and finished 37 points behind the leaders. In the previous five seasons, they were on average 12.6 points behind the champions. Recent form and their woeful away record suggests to me they are not likely to be title contenders for at least a couple of seasons.

They showed this season they can go deep in a European competition, even if only the secondary one. Their recent domestic cup pedigree is sound. So, they have appointed a man who knows precisely what level Arsenal operate on: he has helped clubs target the top four in their domestic league, he is an improvement on Wenger in terms of recent Europa League form and he shares Wenger’s recent disappointing form in the Champions League.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis insisted at Wednesday’s unveiling that Emery fits the “Arsenal values” and he spoke about his history of developing young players and playing aggressive football. More tellingly, he described the way Arsenal’s three-man selection committee had closely focused on the candidates “coaching in action on the pitch”. This, for me, is the key area in which Arsenal need to improve. Without wanting to slur Wenger, it has been suggested that things had become stale on the training ground at London Colney. Unai will not work any harder than Wenger but he will bring fresh ideas to the challenge of getting the most out of the squad.

The second thing that reinforced my belief in the rightness of Emery’s appointment was his own press conference, delivered in halting English that will be far improved by the time the season kicks off in August. One message came through loud and clear and he articulated it as follows: “I can’t promise we will always win, but I can promise we will always work hard.”

If I were an Arsenal fan, that statement would be music to my ears. The Gunners have not always won lately but there have been too many times when they have not appeared to put in the kind of work needed, in away games and especially against their “Big Six” rivals, to at least not lose the game. So, on the odd occasion when they have grafted to a win, say against Chelsea in last season’s FA Cup Final or in drawing at Stamford Bridge in the league this season, it has stood out.

Emery will not turn Arsenal into Premier League title contenders overnight but he should be able to make them Top Four contenders once more. He will improve players and help develop the undoubted talent coming up from their academy. His is a real-world appointment, not one based on some journalist’s spurious “one of our own” narrative based around Arteta’s somewhat tenuous claims to be a Gooner through and through.

Gazidis’ press conference comments may have been dry and businesslike but surely that is what the fans should expect from the people entrusted with spending a substantial amount of money on the appointment of a key member of staff. Replacing Wenger was always going to be difficult but in Emery, the club appears to have gone for a sensible and reasonably bold choice.

I’ll leave the last words to @ibrahimmalcolm, one of the many Arsenal fans who replied to my initial Tweet: “At least this Arsenal experiment seems (more) promising than Man United’s David Moyes capitulation.”

That’s a bit harsh on both United and Moyes but the sentiment is basically correct. Moyes did not feel like a United manager. Unai Emery feels very much like an Arsenal manager.