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Is There a Downside to Unai Emery’s Appointment?

It’s difficult to sum up the mood of Arsenal supporters as a whole regarding incoming manager Unai Emery. It was logical after 22 years and a few disappointing seasons of late for the club to move on from Arsene Wenger, but losing that kind of stability invites all kinds of questions. And while there is a sense of renewed hope among many, others have also felt something akin to buyer’s remorse – not toward Emery specifically but toward the idea of change. Overall however, cautious optimism might be the best way to characterize the overarching mood.

Still, it pays to look at both sides of this situation, and there are some who are decidedly not optimistic about this hiring. Indeed if you look at the early Premier League betting markets, bookies are on the ball for an early exit for Emery, with some fairly alarming odds showing up (such as 4/1 to last less than a season with Arsenal, or 1/2 for Arsenal fans to unveil banners calling for his ousting before the New Year). So it feels only fair to wonder what it is that has some believing this is a misguided hire for the Gunners.

The most likely explanation actually isn’t so bad, and that’s that this could just be a function of the general tendency toward turnover in the modern Premier League. This past January it was pointed out that Premier League manager changes were at a 10-year high, and a recent article at none other than ESPN pointed out that EPL coaching turnover is unlike that of any of the major U.S. sports leagues. Simply put, managers are getting fired all the time, so in some sense the laws of probability suggest Emery may not last long, even if his predecessor was in place for more than two decades.

A lazy assessment would be that Emery’s mixed results in top leagues is another reason for pessimism, but this misses the point, as anyone who has looked into the manager’s recent history can tell. Emery won three straight Europa League titles with Sevilla,and took PSG to the top of Ligue 1 just last season. Now, it’s true that PSG perhaps should have won in 2016/17 as well, and also that Emery has no noteworthy Champions League accomplishment to his name, but harping on these as negatives would be greedy. The fact is Emery has essentially done as well as he could have done at his last two stops, barring miraculous and unlikely successes.

Another conceivable downside is that Emery is in some ways a hire that speaks to limited ambition. While it’s fair to call him a big name manager at this point after two seasons at PSG, he is known for having succeeded with a limited budget at Sevilla, and his top accomplishments, as mentioned, are in the Europa League. If you think of this as a snapshot of where Arsenal is at the moment – with limited room for major transfer acquisitions and facing a season of Europa League competition – it is a little bit disheartening. Another way of looking at this though is that Emery fits the position the club was left in under Wenger, and is the man to succeed in that position and thus elevate the Gunners to a higher (and more familiar) place.

Again, cautious optimism seems the best approach, but these are some of the conceivable counterpoints some have made or may make in the months ahead. As we all know though, the real judgment will come based on how the team looks on the pitch, and we don’t have too much longer to wait before we get our first look.

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