Contributed by: Omair Javed aka @omijaved
Three games into the season and I have already seen Arsenal struggle to create anything against Newcastle, scoring and then basically putting their lives on the lines to salvage a win against Burnley and now parking the bus and trying to hoof long balls forward in the path of Aubameyang and Pepe in hope that one would get lucky and score, meanwhile praying that Liverpool somehow doesn’t score.
In all of this, I have been left asking myself one question. What is the identity of Arsenal under Unai Emery? What is our style? What does he want to achieve with his players on the field? Is his Arsenal era just about getting top 4? Is it what we call the Arsenal way?
I wonder what is one without his identity? After all, it is what defines an individual. And just like in the case of humans, it is also true in case of football clubs. For a football club, it’s identity can be defined in the way they do business or in the way they treat their players or in the way they do transfers or more importantly, in the way they play on football pitch. It can be described as the soul of the club, which in our case is The Arsenal Way and 15 months into his appointment, Arsenal under Unai Emery has yet to find it. And this above all else, is his ultimate failure to date at Arsenal.
Identifying the Arsenal Way
But what is the Arsenal Way, especially when it comes to the style of football? Under George Graham, it was associated with dull, unimaginative defensive football with more focus on putting the right tackle in rather than technical aspects of the game. It led to one of the famous Arsenal chants, ‘1-0 to The Arsenal’. It was successful, but hardly a style of football to be proud of.
This however, all changed with the arrival of Arsene Wenger. Under him, Arsenal was revolutionized into an exciting, creative and attacking unit. We were not only successful but also became a global brand that we are today. So, now when you listen chants of “49, 49, I say, 49, 49 undefeated, playing football the Arsenal way”, you know that it refers to the style of football we developed under Arsene Wenger, also referred to as the ‘Wengerball’. Over the last 2 decades it became our identity and as the chant itself says, it is the Arsenal way.
So, it was natural that it is the continuation of this identity that Arsenal board and the fans sought in Unai Emery after the departure of Arsene Wenger. Yes, it gave us a fresh start and yes, our main target was always to be back in the league of European elites as soon as possible. I think no one would disagree with me when I say that in longer run, it is the foundations laid by the Frenchman that Arsenal wanted to build upon. It was the Arsenal way that was successful and entertaining in Arsene’s golden era that Arsenal sought for when they appointed Unai Emery.
In the words of Ivan Gazidis, explaining the appointment of the Spaniard:.
“We had some clear criteria: aggressive, entertaining football; personality that fitted with Arsenal’s values; also a record of developing players through detailed tactical instruction and also cultural demand, pushing players.”
Unai Emery himself described his style in following words,
“My idea is to be a protagonist for all of the match. We play against teams with this personality, and I think the history here shows they love playing with possession of the ball. I like this, and when you don’t have possession of the ball I want a squad very, very intense in pressing. It’s two things that are very important for me. Being a protagonist, possession of the ball, and pressing.”
From above two quotes, the Arsenal Way and Unai Emery’s task and our expectations from him were clearly laid out in terms of the style of play before he even started his job.
And as an Arsenal fan, I welcomed these words very much because this is exactly what I wanted our philosophy on the pitch to be. Continue our identity of playing the football the Arsenal Way while adding the extra element of pressing. But fast forward 15 months, and we have failed to see the practical implementation of these Unai Emery words that he spoke with so conviction and clarity on the day that he was unveiled as our new manager.
From purpose to confusion
Initially, I would agree that there was a bit of purpose to his play. There was a clear focus on playing the ball out from the back which resulted in many calamitous moments for Peter Cech. There was an added focus on intensity of our play and asking our forwards and creative players to put more defensive output which resulted in some bizarre team selections but at least you could say that he had a vision, or so I thought.
Especially, the game against Leicester at home last season. It was a superb display of attacking football and ticked all the criteria boxes that Gazidis described earlier. I thought, if this is Emeryball, then we are truly in for a treat but what I quickly found out was that it was just a blast from the past and the more the team got Emeryfied, the more we moved away from the brilliance of the Arsenal way to something that consisted of finding the runs of Kolasinac and putting in cutbacks for our CF’s to run on to. For me, it was painful and depressing to watch.
Every game seems to throw a new formation, new style and a new confusion regarding the player roles. But whatever Unai Emery has done, it has lacked consistency and conviction to make his mark in terms of his own Arsenal identity because nothing has ever lasted for more than a couple of games. Playing out from back vanished and then returned. Possession seems to be an afterthought and our pressing, well it’s better not to talk about it.
No creative focal point
You see, every Arsene Wenger team had two things in common. A creative focal point, in the shape of Bergkamp, Cesc, Cazorla or Ozil and a focus on Wengerball which was designed to entertain and attack. Unai Emery has failed to achieve any of these two aspects.
There is no creative focal point. In fact, he prefers to have more defensive minded and high energy players playing through the middle with single task of moving the ball out wide as quickly as possible. Moreover, he simply seems incapable of playing the attacking football the Arsenal way. Last season showed that he believed more in the strengths of his opponents rather than the strengths of his own team which resulted in the tactics like the one we saw against Huddersfield where he fielded 7 defensive minded players on the pitch. That may be a brilliant mindset for a relegation club but unheard of for a top club like Arsenal.
And when we do end up creating a chance, it is either due to sheer individual brilliance (Auba’s goal against Burnley) or an opponent’s error (Auba’s goal against New Castle). This is exactly what leads me to say that Arsenal team under Unai Emery are the perfect jigsaw pieces of many imperfect pictures rather than one perfect picture.
Improvement or regression
Apart from his style and tactics which tends to ask more questions than provide answers, there has been a question whether he has actually been able to improve our individual players so far. I don’t think so that he has. Unai Emery came to Arsenal announcing that he would develop his team around Ozil and Ramsey but throughout last season either he did not play them or when he did played them in a role which neither suited them nor the team.
One of the glaring concerns when he first arrived was our defense was as strong as a toddler according to some of our fans, something I did not necessarily agree with. But anyways, the fact is we ended up conceding more goals in Emery’s first season than we did in Arsene’s last season and that, too, after the Spaniard mostly set up the team more defensively in shape and in play.
As for the thing about improving the players that he already had at his disposal; it seems to me Emery has shown himself to be more inclined towards spending rather than coaching. Our defense is a glaring example. Replaced rather than improved.
When it comes to youth, I agree that we have seen improvements in that regard this season and I hope this will continue but last season Emery preferred to sign Dennis Suarez on loan rather than giving someone like Emile-Smith Rowe a chance in the first team and he hardly gambled with them in League Cup and FA Cup games. And this season we ended up selling many bright academy graduates including Alex Iwobi, a player who was credited to be the most improved player under Unai Emery last season.
Failing or fulfilling the critieria
To conclude, Unai Emery may have many success or failure stories at Arsenal so far but he is failing to achieve the criteria on which he was appointed as our manager. He is trashing the values of our club without even achieving top 4 which makes his achievement almost irrelevant. Unai Emery and the Arsenal Way are two opposite polls and one seems to be the death of the other. Due to this, Unai Emery is and has been a failure at Arsenal and will continue to be unless he starts treading the path of Arsenal way.
Now, you may or may not agree with me which is fine. And I am also not saying that Arsenal will never be successful under Unai Emery. But the question is, at what cost? If the goal is to become like Chelsea who only value results and trophies and don’t care if their manager should be bound to play to a certain criterion or develop his players in a certain way, then it is all good. But the thing is that we are Arsenal Football Club and we have always prided ourselves on our Arsenal Way and values even when five or six other clubs were constantly outspending us in the transfer window. Are we willing to let all that go so we can salvage a lucky draw against Liverpool at Anfield by using tactics for which we mocked Burnley last week? Have we forgotten Arsene’s last words to us so quickly?
I feel like this blog has been stolen from my mind. I agree with every word,and in fact have spoken every word several times.
Great post Omair Javed .
The money quote for me was Emery’s:
“…I want a squad very, very intense in pressing.”
Possession is down and the pressing is non-existent.
Some of my friends feel the criticism is unwarranted but by his own criteria, not Gazidis’, Emery has failed to deliver the goods. How do you excuse this?
You cant at this moment.
Looks like this: give the owners the spiel they want to hear, do what you want, get the boot, or sneak a few extra years in if you make CL. All about cash? Who gives a monkeys when its about cash?
Does the bloke really know what hes doing? Players gone, going, players excluded. Set up defensively,but lets in loads of goals. Going for top four, but struggling against Twatford and LCFC etc.
If Auba and Lacca get injured whose going to score then? Leno?
Trouble is we are still in August. Once in late Oct its all a bit less under the microscope?
So is there really a true Arsenal way? Was it just the Wenger way? Those are the years most focused on, online. But Arsenal has a long history, some strange DNA from the early years, periods of success and periods of not much to cheer about.
We havent improved. The bench mark is there. Not matter how much people hate Weng, that shadow is long and deep. Don Howe could have done better with this lot.
Great post mate.
Is it me or have i entered the multiverse?
Arsne knows crew have turned into emry out and Wenger out has turned into emry in lol, nah just joking but every joke has an element of truth eh?
Anyways the best Arsenal teams i seen had fluidity and cohesion that came with playing numerous games with a core set of players playing together and building natural instinctive and spontaneuos patterns all over the pitch.
What we got last year with Emery uncertainty trhoughout the team for the whole year with formations, personel and tactics.
Season 2, bought a lot of players moved a lot on, playing unfamiliar formations, with unfamiliar players to micromanaged instructions – Great!!
OK emry gives the impression he can not do anything with Wengers players.
Wenger won the double with George Graphams players.
I think we have done a Man U in appointing the spanish David Moyes
Emery to Arsenal is like either:
Moyes to United
Hodgson to Liverpool.
Supporters of both clubs knew quite early it was a bad fit and inconsistent with their traditional offensive-minded way of playing and winning.
Meanwhile our lot, especially the big blaggers, after years of joining mainstream media in falsely demonizing Wenger, cannot now admit the Frenchman was fighting against the odds while keeping us in the top-4 and winning FA cups.
At least the Fenway Goup made some smart choices with Rogers and now Klopp while United is still stumbling. Which of either will be the fate of Arsenal?
“Meanwhile our lot, especially the big blaggers, after years of joining mainstream media in falsely demonizing Wenger, cannot now admit the Frenchman was fighting against the odds while keeping us in the top-4 and winning FA cups. ”
These guys have a lot to answer for, for me i dont really have as much contempt for media, rival teams, rival fans etc than i have for my own fellow so called Gooners family.
For me Le Grove started the tone, ANR, Arsenal Truth, Angry of Islington which resulted in the embarssment of the family that is called AFTVwho have built their whole platform and revenue stream of the negative vibes perpertated by the main stream media and sold it on to its consumer base as the only voice of reason and sanity in a crumbling Arsenal world.
Honestly i have got to the point wheremy interest and investment into Arsenal is waning as i just cant stand the attitude of some of these groups. They sound worse than the Man utd and Liverpool fans i used to hate growing up as they were so entiltled and arrogant. Never thought that would be us Gooners but yes we are amongst the worst fans in the league esp online.
I do believe that we got the appointment wrong and that Gazidis, Raul and Sven mistake is much bigger than any that Emery has made so far. As the Gazidis comments show above, they thought that Emery is all of this but it has proved to be that he is not.
Even if Emery had shown a sign of trying to build on the criteria on which he was appointed, we could have lived with it and hoped for better from his team but the fact is that he has neither helped us in making us a better pressing team, neither better in possession and the players that he inherited have hardly improved which means that he has failed to live up on even a single criteria that was set.
Regarding your point about two arsenal factions switching positions. I think that this is more about idealism than anything else. One put Arsenal values above all else and the other just don’t care about them much. This division is true today as well and will continue to be forever in my opinion. The manager is just a variable in all of this.
I totally agree with you. There’s more to a football club than just winning and losing. That much is clear to anyone who follows the sport. It even becomes clear soon enough to those that jump on a bandwagon. So not sure why people try to argue that ‘Arsenal values’ mean nothing. They quite clearly do.
Not only do I not think they prevent us from winning, I think they helped us establish a brand, and a winning identity. Which is now being severely affected by the new coach and management.
I’m also not sure why results are supposed to be an argument in favour of Emery. They simply are not good enough.
Most concerning of all isn’t the fact that we don’t play attacking football. Defensive football has its role, in the Graham era for one. But that we’re actually not good at either of those things. Emery said he wants to reduce attack to improve defense. He’s done the first, and made the defense worse.
We’re simply not creating enough shots, and it is entirely due to the high level finishing of Auba and Laca that we’re not in way worse position. Oddly enough, Auba got blamed for not scoring vs Liverpool. Similarly individual players are blamed for the defense rather than the system, which as you point out, despite being defensive minded allows us to be put under pressure.
This weird obsession with making Emery out to be better than he is must be due not wanting to be proven wrong about the ire with which they spoke about Wenger? I can figure out no other reason that in an age where they laud ‘ruthlessness’ against faithful servants, they also preach faith in someone who hasn’t earned it, and has shown nothing to deserve it.
I’m full on Emery out. I also don’t think the problem of identity will end with him. I am hopeful though that Edu, Per and Freddie can help keep the Arsenal Way alive and flourishing.
I agree with you regarding it helping our brand. We were successful under George Graham era as well but did that helped us in becoming a worldwide brand? Or even being famous in Europe? That only happened under Arsene Wenger and our style played the major role. Most of our current fan base outside of UK especially, has been built on this style. Even when Arsenal got outspend heavily, we remained a brand value. This is something I can’t see us continue to be under Unai Emery unless we always spend heavy and make some flashy signings in the transfer window. That too is not sustainable for club like Arsenal as long as we are not back in the Champions League.
Emery said, he wants to build us into one of the best teams in the world. The way I see it, it looks he wants to do it while playing like Stoke City. I don’t think these two go hand in hand. You need creativity and consistency to be among the best. His teams provide neither.
I completely agree that most of the fans back Emery because otherwise they would never be able to provide valid arguments in their pursuit to hound our best manager out of the club. They have tread this path so long that they have lowered their expectations as well. Emery can spend 100 millions in every window and will be success if he can only just get us Top 4. They would have demanded nothing else than a Premier League from Arsene.
I hope someone can keep the Arsenal way alive because otherwise, we would have to take the ‘Football should be an art’ banner down at Emirates.
soz to be a twat/smart ass, but if Wenger won anything with another managers team, it was Rioch’s. Plus season two Weng brought in Petit Overmars, Grimandi. Wreh, Anelka, Was Viera in the period after Rioch and before Weng came in? Paddy came because Weng was coming I seem to recall. So he seems only really a Weng player.
He did have the defence that was through GG and BR though. Best balance we can think of?
Still not convinced of the Arsenal way and what Arsène established as his way though. The Howe/ Neill way was really different from the GG /BR way and the AW way was again different, as you all know.
For me its not about being right, just kicking the gong around a bit. Anyway, soz again.
@ Mills – cool mate no worries but i also respectfully disagree to some extent.
Seamen, dixon, adams, bould, keown, Winterburn, Ian Wright, Ray Parlour, stephen Hughes. Not 100% but im sure they played under George Grapham. Of course Wenger brought in his own players but my point was keeping a core of experience players together and building on it.
There was a Arsenal way before Wenger came as we were known as a historic classy successful club that operated a bit differently but Wenger enchanced the way we are seen Worlwide though our Football. I mean De Jong who sighned for Barca recently was willing to sign for Arsenal, in fact he described it as the Overmars path.
Look at the players that signed for us under Wenger and the increase of the technical ability of the whole club from seniors down to youths in that period.
Finally Wengerball is a thing.
Anyways just my views not trying to argue
As a “foreigner” who started supporting the year immediately after the Invincibles, I have the greatest respect for the historical achievements of the club and the legacy left by the managers who preceded Wenger. But it is obvious to any, but the most dishonest or the most xenophobic, that Wenger build upon the defensive traditions and transformed Arsenal into one of the finest exponents of attractive, attacking football in England and Europe. I am the the first to admit it did not always work and often times Arsenal played with the “handbrake-on” or indulged in “sterile possession” but there was no doubting the intent and values of the manager.
But, as both Omair and Shard have highlighted, there is a large body of Arsenal fans who would make light of these values erroneously thinking we can somehow return to the era of defensive, pragmatic football. They somehow believe Emery can give lip service to possession and pressing while keeping it tight at the back and winning games.
As we have seen over the past year it is a unambitious strategy which leads to poor team performance and a failure to consistently win games versus the likes of Brighton and Huddersfield. Such a conservative strategy will only succeed in the modern era when the Kroenkes do an Abramovich who injected close to a billion pounds just to win the League but lose the hearts and minds of football fans. So much so the Chelsea owner is now demanding attractive, entertaining football from his managers. He is also finding that spending in the old way is now untenable in the era of financial fair play as UEFA realizes uncontrolled expenditures by football clubs will destroy the various leagues.
Time will tell.
gee, appreciate your views and thanks for being decent. I dont know what it is with the world at the moment but even just having a chat on line seems tough.
They did, youre 100% right on that. Bergkamp also to be added on the list.Would you say Parlour really came into his own under AW more than GG/ BR?
And youre smack on right about AW building on the players already at the club. Really you could say it was slightly more in favour to the old days. Out of the standard 11, 6 to 5, the squad for a game 8 to 7.
Dont get me wrong, I think Emery has made a massive, very simple blunder in letting so many people go, excluding players or not playing the lads to their strengths. His contract wasnt long enough to do that, no as we can see is he a kind of coach/manager that can really justify what hes done? To me he is a EL manager, mid table PL kind of guy. Weng left us really in a better position than that.
(OT I was looking out for Aaron at Juve last night, not much to see, but those guys have a great team)
As I said before its still August and we are hungry for football with only one game a week. Im not sure he will be here at Christmas, and can see Freddie stepping up…but that a bet and only speculation. For me, hes no longer the man for the job, even if we go on a massive 20 games winning streak again. Unless its mind-blowing football, but so far we see no evidence of that.
Totally agree with you about Le Grove/ aftv etc they did the most damage, and it was unnecessary.
In my own time, since 1978, we’ve had some rum old periods. But football was different then, the amount of money was way way less and the interest too. We were a big club, but for me it was Wenger who turned it around and really changed things. If the big money bags hadnt have come in, the it would have been 20 years or so of us and ManUre socking it out.
Makes you feel sad that we might not see Wengerball again, but who knows. Im happy to stick with Wengs values, in my time he was the most likeable and approachable and intelligent manager. Brought millions of people to the club, kept us at the top,and made the club a ture international phenomena, beating Barca at their best and also beating Bayern at their too. These days I feel very edgy going into a game, glass half -filled view point, I didnt feel like that under Weng. I even switched off the EL final last ten minutes, first time in my life I stopped believing in the Arsenal.
Cheers! Always like your posts over at PA. And that goes for everyone here and there too. got to remember we’re on the same side, even if we disagree. Its been a tough 5 years for pro Wenger fans, and not many outlets to hangaround.