On the touchline, Unai Emery is so fun to watch that, in the spring of 2015, Sevilla’s media team fired up their cameras and decided to do nothing else. For their entire game against Barcelona, a single lense was fixed on Emery, the then Sevilla manager. Looking at it now, it feels similar to when broadcast companies track a player, except this time the subject of the footage is wearing a suit and is confined to a dugout. Coach-cam, rather than player-cam.
The resulting video is still available online. It’s worth a watch, not least because of the remarkable array of contorted body positions and poses that an impassioned Emery manages to display throughout a match fraught with tension. Sevilla concede two early goals (to Lionel Messi and Neymar, no less) but fight back to claim a draw.
Much like his team, Emery starts off slowly. His game begins with nothing more dramatic than a waving of the arms, his finger extended in a point. But he soon gets into his rhythm, dropping into a squat and beating his knees with his fists. Next he alternates his fist pumps, throwing one into the air after another like an overeager dad at a school disco. A pirouette follows, and so does an exaggerated folding of the arms when an appeal goes against his side.
When the late equaliser arrives, Emery launches himself into the arms of his assistants, roaring and skipping in delight. These are the delirious actions of a man totally plugged into the game, a coach completely wired on the excitement and passion of football.
Emery has yet to reach a state as frenzied as this at Arsenal, but he is getting closer by the week. In Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace, a game high on stress and low on composure, he was as animated as he has been at any stage in his short Arsenal career. He ordered every movement, berated every player and reacted to every twist with such energy that you wondered how his body coped with the strain.
Earlier in the season, Match of the Day drew up a ‘heatmap’ for Emery in his technical area. Against Palace, it might have burned through the screen. Ask Alexandre Lacazette, who felt the full force of Emery’s emotion deep in the second half after a poor pass had led to the home side’s equaliser. The Arsenal head coach clapped his hands to Lacazette’s face, screamed some choice words of encouragement and then slapped the striker on the cheek.
The first reaction upon watching this was to marvel at Emery’s intensity. The second was to think back to how Arsene Wenger would carry himself on the touchline and realise how quickly times have changed at Arsenal. The Frenchman enjoyed the occasional outraged stretch of the arms, but he preferred to sit back and let his players perform, his face often as long as his coat. Emery, by contrast, demands more in every moment.
The Arsenal hierarchy knew about the Spaniard’s touchline demeanour when they were considering Wenger’s replacement this summer. The process to appoint the new head coach was painstaking and detailed, and one of the qualities the club was looking for was “winning spirit”. Emery wears that spirit louder and prouder than most.
It is easy to see the arguments in favour of appointing someone of Emery’s obvious energy. Few observers of Arsenal in recent years would disagree that some of the players would benefit from a more intensive and demanding style of management. There will be mistakes under Emery — from the players and from him, of course — but there will not be any coasting in these first few months. Emery’s ruthlessness with his substitutions, particularly with his willingness to hook Mesut Ozil if things are not going his way, is indicative of that.
There is, however, an obvious question that needs asking. How much do the players actually listen? Are they fully aware of what Emery is bellowing from his technical area? They certainly cannot be seeing each hand movement or hearing each command. How much is it all for show?
Perhaps the answer is another question. Does it matter? Does it matter if the players do not take on every message, or do not listen to every positional demand? They will certainly hear some of it, even if it takes Emery grabbing them by the sides of their face, as he did with Lacazette. And we know they are listening occasionally at least, because Granit Xhaka made a point of celebrating with Emery after scoring his rasping free kick at Selhurst Park.
“I chose to shoot because the coach asked me why I didn’t take the corners or the free kicks in the first half,” Xhaka said, while Emery added: “At half-time we spoke about this situation. He has good quality from free kicks and also to try to make more crosses. I tried to push him to do that.”
The nature of the draw with Palace brought all this into sharper focus. It was chaotic, tempestuous and far too open for Emery’s liking. But it also gave him a greater taste of the turbulent world of Premier League football ahead of this weekend’s potentially nerve-shredding encounter with Liverpool. Last season, this fixture ended in a breathless 3-3 draw. If the same happens again, Emery will be hard to miss. Get the cameras ready.