Was sacking Unai Emery the right decision?

The dust has settled on Unai Emery’s sacking as Arsenal manager, and as the search for a successor continues, the world is left wondering how Emery – a man with three Europa League titles and a Ligue 1 championship over the past five years – has failed so spectacularly.

Doomed From the Start?

Emery’s first match on the Arsenal touchline proved to be a sign of the season to come, with promise unfulfilled and a failure to perform in the big games that would propel Arsenal back into the Champions League places they once took for granted. A 2-0 home defeat to Manchester City on 12 August 2018 illustrated the gulf that was emerging between City and their fellow top-six peers at this time, with City looking like the home side in an effortless win.

A second defeat, at Stamford Bridge, completed Arsenal’s start from hell, but the squad Arsenal could be under Emery soon emerged, taking 34 out of the following 42 points available. The first genuine knockings of trouble came in December 2018, when Arsenal were stunned 3-2 by Southampton in the Saints’ first home game under Ralph Hassenhuttl.

Just two weeks later, the Gunners were thrashed 5-1 at Anfield, in what was comfortably their worst league performance since that game at Old Trafford in August 2011. It was at this point, just four months after his managerial debut for Arsenal, that the first ‘Emery out’ calls were made in earnest.

There would be another revival around the corner, with just two defeats across January, February and March. That was an admirable return for a team battling on two fronts and progressing well in the Europa League. However, many see a dismal April – during which Arsenal lost four of five league games – and a lost Europa League final in May as the real point of no return.

Numbers Fully Justify Sack – and a New Approach

So, humiliating was Arsenal’s humbling against Chelsea in the Europa League final, with Chelsea having made the same exhausting journey to Baku, that many Arsenal fans were calling for Emery to be sacked immediately.

If last season was ‘bad’, this season has been a complete catastrophe by comparison. The Gunners’ stock within key Sporting Index football betting markets for the Premier League has never been lower, and their plight is perhaps best summarised in the form shown during November alone.

While Arsenal visited Carrow Road on 1 December having failed to score in just one of their last seven matches, they also travelled to East Anglia amid a seven-game winless run across all competitions. The Gunners’ defence also conceded twice or more on five occasions within that winless run, and the habit of switching off late was also prevalent, with each of their six games prior seeing them concede after the 60th minute.

Ultimately, the writing was on the wall long before Emery’s execution. With Freddie Ljungberg taking up the position of caretaker manager for now, his presence in the dugout also fuels thoughts about the identity of the next Gunners’ gaffer, and whether the club should go with a former player in lieu of a much bigger name.

Freddie v Mikel: Heart vs Head

Of those former players on the realistic shortlist, Ljungberg himself is the favourite, having shadowed Emery and the latter-day Wenger over the past three years, moving from coaching the U15s to the U23s before settling as assistant manager. While Ljungberg represents the most seamless transition in practice, many Arsenal fans want to give Mikel Arteta a shot at the big time.

The Spaniard has learnt from the very best. He has been behind the scenes at Manchester City, and observed everything that Pep Guardiola has done to make the Citizens the multiple record-breaking team they are today. In turn, he has been identified as the number one candidate, but with names like Massimiliano Allegri and even Mauricio Pochettino amongst the frontrunners, Arteta has some considerable competition.

Even then, Arteta has the edge over that duo. Pochettino is at a disadvantage for obvious reasons, as the very man who has orchestrated the apparent red-to-white ‘power shift’ in North London over the past five years. In any case, the Argentine ex-manager may feel somewhat disillusioned with the Premier League at present.

Allegri, meanwhile, has six league titles, four cup wins, and two Champions League finals under his belt. However, a lack of foreign league experience may work against him as the Premier League, and – as shown by Maurizio Sarri over at Stamford Bridge via Fresh Football – Serie A success seldom matches Premier League experience in its practical value.