Unai Emery was never going to have it easy at Arsenal. The shoes of Arsene Wenger and his 22-year stint at the club were and still are, big ones to fill, and a little over a year into his tenure with the Gunners, Emery is feeling the heat.
After beginning their second season with the new manager at the helm with a couple of victories, Arsenal have won just two Premier League games from their past nine via Freshfootball. Extend that back to the end of the 2018/19 Premier League season and they’ve won just six of their last 18 league games.
Adding fuel to the fire is the manner in which the Gunners have failed to earn maximum points in recent weeks. Their last two games have seen them concede leads against first the Wolves and then Crystal Palace – the second particularly damning given they found themselves two goals ahead early on.
The result – not just of the past couple of weeks but the past few months, which has continually seen the team fail to perform to the level expected by the fanbase – is a proud club in turmoil and a coach under immense pressure.
Just this week, Emery stripped Granit Xhaka of the captaincy after he drew the ire of an Emirates Stadium crowd following his substitution. Xhaka’s reaction – a hand to the ear as if to encourage the booing and a rapid retreat into the changing rooms – seemed symbolic of where the club is at.
The football world, and in particular Arsenal fans and those involved with the club, seems to have reached a consensus that Emery is on borrowed time. Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown, who played under Wenger for close to a decade, recently stated that ‘we are in danger of losing the identity built under Arsene Wenger’
Despite all the noise, however, those in the know insist that the club is not looking for a new coach. Transfer expert Duncan Castles recently put paid to the idea that Emery’s future had been decided, though he did say that plans were in motion should that eventuate. Of course, it would be highly unusual for a club to acknowledge their attention to sack a manager prior to actually doing it, so these comments might not suggest anything other than that he won’t be let go in the immediate future.
All signs point to an exit at the end of the season, if not earlier, for Emery, but it’s worth remembering that less than a year ago he found himself in an entirely different position altogether. After joining the club from PSG, Emery and his Gunners began the 2018/19 Premier League season with a couple of losses before immediately embarking on a run which went close to breaking records for the club.
They won seven Premier League games in a row, and from late August onwards made it all the way to December before losing again in any competition. Among this streak were moments of pure jubilation for the boys from North London, most notably a 4-2 victory over Tottenham which saw them come from a goal behind in an extraordinary incarnation of the fierce rivalry.
That was their 19thsuccessive game without a loss, and the streak would ultimately be extended to 22 before they went down 3-2 to Southampton just before Christmas. At that point, there were certainly still problems with the way the team was playing – perhaps most notably their habit for sluggish starts – but few, if any, were criticising what Unai Emery had done with the group and it was difficult to imagine that he could find himself in this position less than 12 months later.
And yet, here we are. The wheels are falling off at Emirates Stadium, and if you ask most people it’s only a matter of time before Emery falls on his sword. If he’s given the luxury of staying for the rest of the season, there is plenty of times for things to change – we saw how fast things went from good to bad, so who’s to say the opposite isn’t every bit as possible?
But whether or not he even gets that luxury is unknown, and things don’t get any easier from here. This weekend they face a Leicester City team with seven wins from their first 11 games, in a game which football spread betting odds suggest isn’t likely to swing in Arsenal’s favour. Just one team out of five who has visited King Power Stadium this season has been able to snatch a point and Leicester has won its past four games thereby an aggregate of 12-3.
It’s worth remembering that Emery has overseen some reasonable times at Arsenal, even if he’s only been there a little over a year. It hasn’t been all bad – regardless of what the current narrative would have you believe – but it’s certainly taken a major turn for the worse in recent months, and from this position, it’s tough to see a way out for Emery.