Question time: What’s next for Emery’s Arsenal?
As first season’s go, Unai Emery’s at Arsenal has shown bitter top-four rivals Manchester United just how to replace a long-term manager. A combination of good tactics and healthy competition for places has left a Champions League place in Arsenal’s hands, in both the Premier League and the Europa League.
However, this hasn’t happened without a number of bumps along the road. From Boxing day onwards towards the end of February, Arsenal suffered a massive blip in form winning only eight of their 14 games in all competitions, losing a mammoth six games, including heavy away defeats at Manchester City and Liverpool.
The blip brought up more questions than it did answers for Arsenal fans, with many questioning whether Emery was indeed the right man for the job. A mixture of poor line-ups and questionable tactics against so-called ‘lesser teams’ meant Arsenal suffered some bizarre results which saw the North London club fall to sixth place in the table.
Despite the first season not being over and done with, the season can be labelled a success even if the Gunners fail to qualify for Champions League football with a clear plan and structure in place.
So, just what is over the horizon in Emery’s second season, after such a positive first season?
If all is to be believed on Twitter and from Football.London Arsenal correspondent Charles Watts, not qualifying for the Champions League could have disastrous effects on Arsenal’s transfer budget for the upcoming summer transfer window, with just roughly £45 million available to Emery. With Denis Suarez’ optional permanent transfer fee set at just over £20 million, it begins to show just how low that figure is.
However, the flip side provides much more encouragement and enthusiasm for the Arsenal supporters, as qualification for the Champions League would leave the transfer budget looking rather healthy. Qualification, tied in with the new Emirates and Adidas sponsorship deals, along with the sale of unwanted players, and Unai Emery could start planning for some big-name arrivals at Arsenal, especially in weak areas of the pitch.
With such a low budget being reported, Arsenal may need to be realistic with targets in key position ahead of next season. For example, in the centre-half position, Barcelona’s Samuel Umtiti has been touted as a potential arrival, and with a healthy relationship with Arsenal front-man Alexandre Lacazette after their time together at Lyon, a transfer looks to be on the cards. However, with Barcelona seemingly eyeing up Matthijs de Ligt from Ajax, and with a fee upwards of £60 million pounds being touted for the youngster, Barcelona will squeeze every single penny they can out of a sale of Umtiti to suitors throughout Europe.
More realistic targets come in the form of young French RB Leipzig centre-back Dayot Upamecano, who signed for the German club for a mere £9 million pound back in 2017. As well as having age on his side, the Frenchman also has pace and defensive nous, with Upamecano only being dribbled past a lowly 0.3 times per 90 minutes in all competitions this season, a quite staggering achievement. With only two years left on his contract come the end of the season a low fee, being reported at £30 million, is well within the grasp of a shrewd negotiator like Raul Sanllehi, who has been brought in for such situations.
Quite amazingly the fate of Emery’s summer lies at the feet of his current Arsenal squad, and after a tough draw to competition favourites Napoli in the Europa League, Emery may look at the remaining eight Premier League games in achieving his target of Champions League football for next season. A squad with players labelled ‘the worst in the current top six in the Premier League’ are now tasked in beating fellow top four rivals to the lucrative Champions League places, ensuring Arsenal don’t struggle to attract and invest in a strong squad in Emery’s second season.
Clearing up wages
Among all the battles Emery faces, clearing up a squad of players often labelled ‘simply not good enough’ remains the biggest of challenges. We are yet to see if Emery will prove successful in his battle to clear the squad of unwanted and overpriced stars. Arsenal’s biggest problem under the failed leadership of Ivan Gazidis and Arsene Wenger was that failed stars were often rewarded for quite horrendous form. This mismanagement meant that Arsenal are perilously close to falling foul to UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules, with punishments like fines and competition bans possible.
On the face of it, Emery seems to be losing the battle having attempted to force Mesut Ozil out, only for the ex-German international starting both of Arsenal’s crucial home games against Manchester United and Rennes, following an away defeat to Rennes in the first leg of a crucial Europa League last-16 tie. Having attempted to freeze out the often ridiculed German, Emery stumbled when the first wave of pressure came from pundits and fans alike, with both sets bemused at how such an Arsenal team bereft of creativity, could afford to leave out such a talented star on high wages.
However, Emery’s efforts have proved fruitful elsewhere, stars like Chuba Akpom, who was sold straight away having almost never seen first-team action, and Mohammed Elneny, who has been benched almost all season, are sure signs that Emery won’t accept anything but the best of talents in the make-up of his squad. Adding to this the trust placed in Matteo Guendouzi, and you can see just the lengths Emery is going in enforcing his opinion that ‘if you’re not good enough, you won’t feature’
Furthermore, the rather baffling freezing out of Carl Jenkinson, in a period where both Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerin were injured, and the starting Stephen Lichtsteiner was less than impressive, shows that despite not getting decisions right in the short-term, in the long-term, Emery won’t allow failed and over-rated stars a second chance.
It stills remains to be seen if Emery will prove successful in his attempts to clear up wages, with both success and failures shown in his short time at the Emirates so far. However, one thing is certain, the Spaniard is ruthless in his attempts at trimming a failing squad, and won’t take wages and status into account, no matter whether it is popular or not.
Overall, signs are showing that Arsenal are heading in the right path ahead of a crucial period in Emery’s first season in charge. If Arsenal’s bid for Champions League does crash and burn, the season can still be looked at as a success, with many building blocks placed by Emery, unlike that of Manchester United, who are still four managers, six years and many hundreds of millions of pounds deep in transition.
Technical director/chief scout?
With Sven Mislintat’s exit, and rejections from Monchi and Marc Overmars respectively from the technical director role, Arsenal have two big gaping holes in the middle of their recruitment process. “Diamond Eye” Mislintat is reportedly responsible for each of the eight signings made during his year-long stay at the club, with each of the eight arguably profound successes. So replacing a man who has taken Guendouzi from being frozen out at Lorient to holding a regular starting place at Arsenal won’t be an easy feat.
Taking into account Arsenal’s restricted spending power in comparison to the rest of the Premier League ‘top-six’, an experienced technical director is a must if Arsenal are to push on to the next level in big competitions, especially in the Premier League. The club will have to make up for losing Mislintat, who was reportedly dismayed at being overlooked for the role, leading to his inevitable exit.
Missing out on Overmars and Monchi has seemingly really hurt Arsenal in their hunt for a technical director, with both holding great track records in previous seasons. Overmars has overseen a quite remarkable season for Ajax so far, with a comeback victory away at Real Madrid in the Champions League and an intense and tight title challenge with rivals PSV in the Eredivisie. Along with such success on the field, Overmars has been the middleman in the sale of Frankie De Jong, a player purchased for just €1 million and then sold on for a huge €75 million. De Jong is just the beginning of Ajax players being chased by major European clubs. Nicolás Tagliafico, Matthijs de Ligt and André Onana are just a number of players being chased by major European clubs.
Monchi holds similar if not even a bigger portfolio of success in comparison to Overmars. Sevilla hold a rich history of selling for extraordinary profits, with players including, Dani Alves, Jesus Navas, Sergio Ramos and all among such star moving to Barcelona, Manchester City and Real Madrid. Whilst this doesn’t excite fans, Sevilla also hold brilliant success with Monchi as technical director, especially in recent seasons where Sevilla have won three Europa League titles.
In conclusion, next season holds big hopes for Arsenal, however, they must get right the decisions this season, both on and off the pitch if they are to continue their success under Emery. A strong end to this season with a Champions League place secured, as well as the right appointment in the board room will go a long way in banishing the blues of 15 years without a major league title. With Emery at the helm, Arsenal hold the right man to take Arsenal to the next level, however, it remains to be seen just what support he will get ahead of a crucial second season.