Can Unai Emery Earn Arsenal a Champions League Spot in His First Season?

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Unai Emery

After 22 years, a new era dawns at Arsenal Football Club. Unai Emery becomes the club’s second-ever continental manager, following on, of course, in the footsteps of his predecessor, Arsene Wenger.

Can Unai Emery Earn Arsenal a Champions League Spot?

‘Wenger ball’ is now a thing of the past and ‘Emery ball’ is the new thing in town. The 46-year old Spaniard’s most valuable asset is the European promise and pedigree he brings to Arsenal.

Undoubtedly, his biggest managerial success so far has been winning three back-to-back Europa league titles with Sevilla from 2013 to 2016. However, he arrives at a club in minor turmoil, having missed out on Champions League qualification for the second year in a row. Upon his arrival, fans begged the question: will Unai Emery address the problem areas that Arsene Wenger had been refusing to address for years now?

Transfers

Arsenal’s Achilles’ heel for years now, the goalkeeping spot, was addressed immediately by Emery, bringing in respected German goalkeeper Bernd Leno. Leno should give Petr Cech some much-needed competition as he looks to nail down the number one jersey for himself. The 26-year-old also brings incredible consistency, having missed just four league games in his first six full seasons in German football – no other Bundesliga goalkeeper has managed more appearances.

In addition to addressing the goalkeeping issue, Unai Emery added a leader and a proven winner to his squad with the signing of Stephan Lichtsteiner from Juventus. The Swiss international just played a leading role in his country’s respectable run to the Round of 16 at this year’s World Cup and, having spent the last eight years winning 14 trophies in Turin, and brings a wealth of experience and defensive quality to Arsenal’s ranks. At 33, he may be a short-term solution but he may also be the cultured leader that some of Arsenal’s toothless performances of the past have been crying out for.

Suring up that defence has definitely been the new manager’s focus as he’s also added much-need feistiness to Arsenal’s defence and midfield with the captures of Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Borussia Dortmund and Lucas Torreira from Sampdoria.

Sokratis brings tons of top-level European experience to Arsenal’s defence, having played more than 225 matches in the Bundesliga and Serie A combined.

Torreira, on the other hand, is fresh off some eye-catching performances at the World Cup with Uruguay in their run to the quarter-finals. He has the potential to be the no-nonsense, tough-tackling, ball-winning midfielder that Arsenal have been asking for ever since Gilberto Silva. The Uruguayan made a name for himself at Pescara early in his career, the same club where a certain Marco Verratti also rose to prominence. At the World Cup, the 22-year old only started his first game in the final group game against hosts Russia before starting and doing a commendable job in the victory over Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese in the round of sixteen.

Admittedly, Torreira is still only 5’6″. One thing he will not bring is a lot of height and strength but what he lacks in physique, he makes up for with his brain and natural fitness (see: N’Golo Kante). Without a doubt, Uruguay international Lucas Torreira is the most exciting summer signing Arsenal made.

Unai Emery’s Methods

One thing that Arsenal fans will be hoping to avoid with the departure of a long-term manager is the loss of identity (see: Manchester United). It’s not uncommon for a new manager to come in and revamp a team’s entire style of play. However, one-look at Unai Emery’s track record and previous clubs tells Arsenal fans that they need not worry. Emery is a student of the same school Arsene Wenger has taught at for decades.

The Spaniard has promised a possession-based style of football with intense without-the-ball pressing. When asked about what will be important, Emery said: “Possession of the ball and pressing when you don’t have the ball.”

When we don’t have possession with the ball I want a squad, very very intensive, for the pressing.”

No one can say that Unai Emery hasn’t worked his way to the top. He worked miracles with Lorca and Almeria in the Spanish second division, getting promoted with the latter 2007. He spent two years at Almeria, finishing eighth in their first season in La Liga. This included an unforgettable 2-0 win over Real Madrid in February 2008.

Unai Emery has never been a picture of calm. He always appears to be buzzing on the touchline, a stark contrast to the often stone-faced Arsene Wenger. The Spaniard is like a fan on the pitch and, admittedly, this can have its cons as well. Emery famously went a year without winning an away game with Sevilla, drawing nine times and losing ten.

The Spaniard’s success, or lack thereof, will hinge on his ability to influence his players and channel his enthusiasm positively onto the pitch. Being a hub of constant activity and emotion is not always a good thing. He worked successfully with a genius like Ramón Rodríguez Verdejo, better known as Monchi, at Sevilla and now must attempt to do the same with Sven Mislintat. Emery may be more of a conservative than an enigma but he offers continuity and stability in the sense that Arsenal, as a club, need right now if they hope to return to Champions League football.

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