Unai Emery’s Midseason Report Card
We’re midway through the Premier League season, as well as the debut campaign for Unai Emery as Arsenal head coach. How well has he done? Here is Unai Emery’s midseason report card.
Man Management: A-
At times last season, especially before Alexis Sanchez left the club, Arsenal’s players did not seem united under Wenger. While the Chilean can take partial blame for this, at the end of the day the team spirit is the manager’s responsibility.
So far this season, Unai Emery has cultivated a wonderful unity in the dressing room. Probably the best example of this is the almost brotherly affection shared by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
While it would be easy to think that, both being strikers, there would be a natural rivalry between them. However, the opposite is true and the two seem inseparable on the pitch and off.
This sense of collective strength is palpable throughout the squad, which was an almost unthinkable feat just twelve months ago.
However, there is the Mesut Ozil issue. Arsenal’s star playmaker had a bust-up with the new head coach back in August, leading to the player being dropped against West Ham.
While the player and Emery have gotten on with their lives, the rumours of a fractured relationship are somewhat worrisome.
Traditionally, managers picked their preferred style of play and stuck with it, even if results were poor at times. However, Unai Emery is not a traditional manager.
The Spaniard prefers to change his formation and tactics due to not only his own player’s fitness and form but also the opponent’s. This season fans have seen the team line up in a 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 4-2-2-2, 3-5-2 and even a 3-4-2-1. Plus, Arsenal have rarely finished a match in the same formation.
The tactics seem to shift often as well, from a more counter-attacking style against other ‘big six’ clubs to a more possession-based style against weaker teams.
Finally, he has a penchant for making early and effective substitutions. Anytime his club struggles in the first half of a match, which is altogether too often in fairness, he is willing to change the plan to achieve the result.
Yes, there have been issues. Primarily, Emery’s Arsenal have shipped too many goals, having allowed more than any club currently occupying the top four places. The Gunners are also slow out of the gates, only leading at the interval once in the league this season, against Burnley on Matchday 18.
At least part of the reason for these failings is unfamiliarity. As Emery grows more comfortable in the league and at the club, things should improve. There is also the issue of an unbalanced squad, already more geared toward offence than defence at the time of the manager’s arrival.
Training Methods: A
This is the area in which Unai Emery has really proven himself this season. Probably the biggest failure of Wenger as a manager was his reluctance to criticise his players.
This manifested itself for many years in a distrust of video technology as a training tool. However, Emery holds no such bias against video and is known to use it extensively to prepare his players for matchday.
The effect has been exactly what Emery wanted and the opposite of what Wenger expected. Several players have already shown marked improvement compared to last season due to the manager’s methods.
Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Alex Iwobi and Granit Xhaka have all hit a new gear with Unai Emery. Plus, he’s got the entire team more fit and working harder on the pitch than under Wenger.
This season, Arsenal have covered more distance than any other club in the Premier League. Last year, the team were eighth in the top-flight when it came to distance covered.
One of the main differences in training has been the intensity. Emery wishes for his players to train at game speed, so shorter but more intense sessions are used. He is also known to fit multiple sessions into one day, yielding great results thus far.
While Arsenal are still a work in progress, the early progress is very promising.
Overall Grade: B+
Unai Emery’s midseason report card may not prove the man a genius, however, he seems like the perfect tonic for a club still recovering from a 22-year relationship with its previous manager.
There have been bumps along the way, for example shipping too many goals and falling out with Mesut Ozil, but overall Emery has steadied the ship.
So long as Sven Mislintat and Raul Sanllehi can back the manager with quality signings we should see Unai Emery succeed at Arsenal.