It felt like only a matter of time before Unai Emery was sacked. A lacklustre Premier League campaign so far has seen Arsenal fans become increasingly frustrated with their head coach, with the club languishing in eighth position in the table when he was dismissed. Although Alexandre Lacazette rescued a late point against Southampton in what proved to be Emery’s final Premier League match at the club, a limp 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League sealed his fate.
And so Arsenal fans wave goodbye to the greasy-haired Spaniard after a tenure in which he failed to remedy the shortcomings of the latter seasons under Arsene Wenger. Emery could not challenge for the Premier League title – something every Gunners fan craves – and instead failed to qualify for the Champions League. The current campaign has thus far been a masterclass in mediocrity, as questionable tactics, team selections and media comments left supporters cringing and scratching their heads.
In his 18 months in charge, Emery failed to endear himself to Arsenal fans in a meaningful way. Aside from his cheery “good ebening” in every interview, it felt like Emery and the Gunners faithful never built any kind of rapport. It’s fair to say that few tears will be shed at his removal from the job, so why was it that Emery lost the support of the fans?
The key to creating confidence between supporters and coach, is to have a team that delivers strong performances. Even if results don’t always go to plan, fans can sympathise with a manager who is getting the best out of players who are trying their hardest.
When it comes to Arsenal’s defence, this has never felt like the case. Arsenal’s tendency to concede goals was the major shortcoming in Emery’s time at the club, and it was a problem he failed to address. The basis of any good team is a strong defence, and with the attacking talent Arsenal possess, they would have been in a great position to challenge for the Champions League places or even the title if Emery had been able to shore up the back four.
Arsenal fans still hold such fond memories of the famous ‘Invincibles’ – a team built on a tough, gritty defence and midfield with hard-hitters like Sol Campbell, Lauren and Patrick Vieira. Those battling, no-nonsense qualities are what endear a team to their supporters, not a back four that collapses like a wet sandcastle at the first hint of pressure. Arsenal should be a fearful proposition for any opponent, but their defensive frailty means that the opposition always stand a chance in football betting odds.
The Özil conundrum
Mesut Özil divides opinion among many football supporters. Some say he’s a genius, others say he’s lazy. Regardless of his attitude, his talents are undisputed. Emery failed to manage Özil effectively, and his absence from the starting 11 in so many games speaks of that failure.
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal boast two world-class strikers who would benefit from Özil’s talents as an attacking midfielder, pulling the strings and providing assists. But Emery seemed tentative to utilise him, as if afraid of the German international’s big personality. Man-management is a vital aspect of leading one of England’s biggest clubs, but Emery failed to see eye-to-eye with Özil, and as such, supporters were too often denied the chance to see one of the club’s most talented players in action.
Baffling team selections have defined Emery’s reign. His unwillingness to play Lucas Torreira in the holding midfield role has caused confusion amongst fans this season. Too often fans have been left questioning the manager’s decisions.
Lack of personality
Perhaps the most important factor is that Emery’s personality meant he was never able to unite coach, players and fans alike. To look at some other clubs in the Premier League is to see coaches who have got the fans on their side from day one – like Jürgen Klopp and the kind of familial love he has fostered at Liverpool, Pep Guardiola, whose sheer passion for football and will win infects every Manchester City supporter, and Frank Lampard, whose legendary status and honesty have endeared him to Chelsea fans.
Emery always felt like a distant presence, that fans never truly understood what lay beneath the slicked-back hair and hooked nose. His hands-off approach did nothing to bring together a support base which was left somewhat divided following Wenger’s departure. Whoever comes in next, Arsenal fans will be hoping that they get a manager who understands what it means to lead this famous old club.