By Tony Attwood
There is a lot being said and written about Unai Emery and the changes he is making to Arsenal in relation to the style of play and his methods of training.
And of course the result of this so far – as with the way the team doesn’t score in the first half, the instructions to the players in detail rather than an emphasis on them expressing themselves, the suggestion that he is selecting unbalanced teams, and the set rules like building from the back rather than the grand improvisational approach of the Wenger teams at their best.
Some players have found their mark – Ozil has been transformed on occasions, Iwobi likewise has in some games looked a new player, and Bellerin has become the assist king in the team.
But with the recent run of draws we appear to some to have run out of steam, and of course the conventional and rather dull response of the much (although not all) of the media has been to suggest that new players need to be brought in. But that is always the solution. Got a problem (perceived or real)? Buy six players.
But I wondered if we could learn anything from the way Mr Emery started his work in his two previous jobs, at Sevilla and PSG.
Mr Emery took over Sevilla in 2013/14. After eight seasons in which they had finished between third and sixth in the League, they had just had two seasons of finishing 9th. This is a rather curious parallel to Arsenal – after years and years of finishing in the top four we’d just had a 6th and 5th place finish.
Mr Emery stayed at Sevilla for three years and gave the club a return to its previous expected position – at least for the first two of those three seasons with two 5th places. In his third and final year the club slipped back to 7th. But what the manager is known for, is winning the Europa League in each of those three seasons he was at the club.
Winning trophies was certainly not unknown to Sevilla. Between 2005/6 and 2009/10 they had won the Uefa, the Europa and the Spanish Cup – the latter being taken twice. But three Europas in a row was something new and special.
However what has particularly interested me was his first season at Sevilla in 2014/15. Although the club ended up fifth, the start to that first season was anything but settled. By 12 matches the club had only won three, losing five and drawing four. Then they recovered with a run of eight unbeaten followed a little later with eight wins in nine. Att the very end of the season as the Uefa final approached there was, as might be expected, a final blip, although fifth place was captured. Not bad for a team with an average attendance of just 34,000.
The other thing we can note is that in each season once the Europa final was reached the manager played backup and junior players in the intervening league matches, which reduced their position in the league – particularly in his final season at the club.
Mr Emery reached PSG in 2016/17 by which time they had just won Ligue 1 four times in a row and the cup double twice. In short their total dominance of French football was well and truly underway.
However it did not continue as although Mr Emery did the cup double PSG did not win the league in his first season – coming second to Monaco. The manager redeemed the situation in the second and final year with the treble. However his Champions League performance was not quite of the standard of his predecessors. Whereas PSG had reached the quarter finals for four successive seasons, he only reached the round of 16 in his two seasons.
Again if we look at his opening 12 games he had two defeats and two draws in that run. In fact he also had a mid-season dip with two defeats and two draws in a run of seven games.
So what does that tell us about Mr Emery at Arsenal?
First some experimentation, second a push for fourth, and third an emphasis on the cups looks to be his style.
Now I have suggested in the past (and rather boringly repeated quite often) that our best route back to fourth would be to hold the home form of last season and take the away form back to that of those “fourth is not a trophy” years.
If we compare this season with 2015/16, the last time we came fourth we find this
In 2015/16 we won 12 games at home (63%) had four draws and three defeats.
This season so far at home we have won four (57%), drawn two and lost one.
In 2015/16 we won 8 games away from home (42%), had seven draws and four defeats.
This season so far away we have won five (60%), drawn one and lost one.
So it is not too bad so far. We just have to make sure that the recent dip in League form with three draws does not continue.
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