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Emery was never right fit for Arsenal

 

Axe falls: Unai Emery fails to get Arsenal going
Axe falls: Unai Emery fails to get Arsenal going
Axe falls: Unai Emery
Interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg

By Miguel Delaney

In the end, there were genuinely too many moments where the Arsenal players couldn't really understand what Unai Emery was saying to them, but there was one early on when they couldn't believe what they were seeing or doing.

It was in the dressing room before a match, when the Basque manager got them into a huddle and told them to put their hands into the centre, before chanting "Arsenal! Arsenal! Arsenal!"

Needless to say, it didn't really wash with some of the senior players.

Emery, as in so many previous jobs, struggled to convince them and Freddie Ljungberg is now interim coach. That problem was summed up by the fiasco with Granit Xhaka, which was really the beginning of the end for his tenure, and then the decision on his replacement as captain. Many in the game were amazed it was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, a player who fell asleep several times in video sessions with Borussia Dortmund.

Many more wondered how it got to this. The story of what went wrong with Emery - confused tactics and a lack of connection with the players - has by now been well told. His sacking became a matter of time.

What has not been as well told was how he even ended up with the job, and that does not just relate to the questions that mounted with the bad results in the last few months. It relates to the day he actually got the job, back on Wednesday, May 23, 2018.

What actually happened that last weekend remains a puzzle, and is hugely relevant to what happens next, and the very future of the club.

Arsenal described Emery as a "unanimous choice", but several sources maintain that he was not on their initial shortlist when Arsene Wenger left. That shortlist included many of the names you're hearing now: Patrick Vieira, Brendan Rodgers, Carlo Ancelotti, Max Allegri, Julian Nagelsmann… and Mikel Arteta. Emery's name was not on it.

Their pursuit eventually came down to Arteta, who sold a hugely exciting vision, with negotiations going very far. So far, in fact, that the feeling among the former midfielder and his planned Arsenal staff was that they had the job.

It was on the Monday, however, that things went quiet.

Some of the Arsenal hierarchy began to think that, as with Nagelsmann, it was just too much of a gamble.

That, however, was an absolutely key point that is all the more important now.

Certain figures at Arsenal had made a lot of how they appointed Wenger, and how it represented the kind of successful left-field thinking that had initially seen the club forge ahead in the modern era.

The reality was that the French great's shadow was so vast that they actually required something like that in May 2018 just to change the thinking around the club, or on the other hand a big name who had a sufficiently big personality to carry that weight. Both would have represented an electrical charge.

In the end, they went with neither. They went in between, in every sense - to a relatively replaceable technocrat manager, who excited few. Emery was by no means a rookie or an unsuccessful manager, but he wasn't elite either.

He was seen as a "safe pair of hands" when his name was finally put forward by trusted advisors "out of nowhere, late in the process", and the Arsenal hierarchy went with that. They showed the opposite of that left-field thinking.

It was too safe, too dull, and predictably underwhelmed.

But the wonder is now also about the effect of Emery's appointment, and that doesn't just relate to the fact Arsenal now need that electrical charge more than ever, either.

There's also the effect on one of the main candidates. Many are intrigued by what Arteta will tell them. Sources close to the process say he felt badly burned by how it worked out last time.

For his part, the Manchester City assistant is said to be intrigued again now. He wants to get into management that badly, and he loves Arsenal that much. But then there's also the allure of the City job. Some who know him wonder whether he should just work Arsenal to get the best possible offer, then take it to City to get guarantees over succeeding Pep Guardiola.

It would be something of a reversal of what happened in May 2018, but also maybe show the effect of appointing Emery was greater than just a lost 18 months.

Arsenal had still wanted to give the Basque a bit more time in the last few weeks. They had hoped that a "winnable" run of games until mid-December would see some confidence restored and get things back on track. It was instead making things worse, and the sight of so many empty seats at the Eintracht Frankfurt defeat was a final straw.

A similar sight on American TV was one big reason they eventually got rid of Wenger.

It's not good for the bottom line.

That does, however, mean Arsenal have been caught a little cold. Conversations that intermediaries had with candidates over the last few weeks must now be accelerated to more serious approaches, but a problem there is that they still don't know what type of manager they exactly want.

Arteta represents that left-field option. Nuno Espirito Santo is actually quite close in profile to Emery. Names like Ancelotti and Allegri are meanwhile precisely that: names.

Their potential options are right across the spectrum of potential managers, without a clear vision of precisely what is required.

Many say the same applies to the hierarchy, and questions of who is actually in charge, as well as how the squad had been put together. That is why there maybe should be some sympathy for Emery, and why any next candidate will have more problems.

It is a hodge-podge squad, apparently put together without any kind of proper plan, as summed up by how its four best-paid players occupy two singular positions - lone centre-forward, and No.10.

There's also the argument that this is exactly the kind of squad that just doesn't work with "facilitators" like Ancelotti or Allegri, alluring as their names may be. They're best at overseeing talented groups, rather than dysfunctional ones. To be fair, that makes Allegri's supposed preference for Manchester United more surprising.

Arsenal now find themselves in an arguably worse position.

This next appointment will tell a lot about where they want to go as a club.

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