It’s safe to say Arsenal’s post-Wegner era under Unai Emery hasn’t gone quite to plan so far.
Two matches, two defeats, five goals conceded. It is exceptionally early days but the manner of Arsenal’s defeats has stoked the debate on who needs to adapt to whom. Do Arsenal’s players need more time to buy into the new manager’s methods, or does Emery need to adapt his style to the players he has at his disposal?
I would argue, that at the moment, Emery needs to be the first to adapt.
Does Unai Emery need to adapt his style at @Arsenal?
— Sky Sports MNF (@SkySportsMNF) August 20, 2018
Emery is a brilliant manager, his work at Sevilla and PSG where he won six major trophies in five years, is testament to this. However, his Arsenal remit is a little unique.
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At Valencia and Sevilla, Emery thrived building a squad with limited funds and as a result, limited league pressure. At PSG he walked into team with huge expectation but who were already top of the pile with almost limitless resources.
His job at Arsenal sits somewhere in between those two extremes. He needs to re-build and mould the Gunners in his image like he did at Valencia and Sevilla, but he can’t sacrifice results too much in the process. It’s a delicate balancing act and he needs to get it right.
It could take him another two or three transfer windows to truly make this Arsenal team ‘his’ so it’s critical he gets to next season with the support of the board, fans and above all players. If the results don’t arrive he won’t make it that far.
To do that, he may need to adapt his principles to the players at his disposal. It’s all well and good bringing his philosophy to his new club but if Emery doesn’t have the right to players to play his way, it will be like playing with the handbrake on.
The most obvious issue at the moment is that the Gunners seem intent of playing out from the back; but their defenders are not comfortable with the ball at their feet.
Against Manchester City, Petr Cech, Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi’s unease in possession spread like wildfire to the crowd, which compounded the team’s erratic performance in Emery’s first match in charge.
That begs the question, why is Cech still the no.1 when £22m new signing Bernd Leno sits on the bench?
There is no doubt he has plenty on his plate and it will take months for Emery to move the club out from underneath Arsene Wenger’s extensive shadow. This isn’t a case of players just getting used to a new style of play, this is a case where some of the players simply aren’t capable of adapting to the new style, and that is a concern.
Fans and the board are realistic. They don’t expect a title challenge; they’re not even demanding a place in the top four. What they do want is a safe finish in the top six and signs of improvement to build on next season.
With all due to respect to the likes of Everton and the rest of the Premier League’s chasing pack, Arsenal should be finishing at least sixth no matter who is in charge. This squad is too good to finish seventh or worse, but if they do the blame will be laid at Emery’s door and his position becomes tenuous.
Emery doesn’t need to completely change his style of play but he needs to identify the limitations of his current squad and work out the best way to get early results. That way he’ll be in a stronger position to make the changes he needs to as Arsenal become more settled.
It is exceptionally early days of course and results are likely to improve the longer he is at the Emirates Stadium, but surely a little short-term compromise would benefit both sides in the long run?