Unai Emery pays price for Arsenal’s poor form
The Spaniard was dismissed on Friday, with Freddie Ljungberg appointed as interim head coach.
Unai Emery was sacked as Arsenal head coach on Friday as a difficult 18 months culminated in the Spaniard’s exit.
The 48-year-old was appointed as successor to Arsene Wenger in May 2018 having won plenty of trophies at Sevilla and Paris St Germain.
Few would have anticipated such a shambolic end to his reign at the Emirates Stadium as a sparse crowd watched his final game at the helm – a 2-1 Europa League defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt.
The result extended a winless run to seven games and saw the curtain fall on Emery’s tenure, with former Under-23s manager and assistant head coach Freddie Ljungberg appointed as his replacement on an interim basis.
The PA news agency understands Emery arrived for training as usual on Friday morning before being informed by head of football Raul Sanllehi, managing director Vinai Venkatesham and technical director Edu that he had lost his job.
Instead, Ljungberg took the training session ahead of his first game in charge away at Norwich on Sunday.
“We announce today that the decision has been taken to part company with our head coach Unai Emery and his coaching team,” a statement on the Arsenal website read.
“Speaking on behalf of the Arsenal board and our owners Kroenke Sports & Entertainment, Josh Kroenke said: ‘Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success.’
“The decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required. We have asked Freddie Ljungberg to take responsibility for the first team as interim head coach. We have full confidence in Freddie to take us forward.”
The club said the search for a new head coach was under way.
The likes of Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo and former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, currently a coach at Manchester City, have been linked with the full-time job.
Ljungberg appeared to allude to the current mood around the club’s London Colney training ground as he tweeted for the first time since his appointment as interim boss.
However long I oversee @Arsenal for I will give everything I have to put smiles on faces again. We have a busy few weeks ahead and the team needs your support. Let’s get to work! pic.twitter.com/WdekcA4h5G— Freddie Ljungberg (@freddie) November 29, 2019
He wrote: “However long I oversee @Arsenal for I will give everything I have to put smiles on faces again. We have a busy few weeks ahead and the team needs your support. Let’s get to work!”
It remains to be seen how long Ljungberg, promoted from manager of Arsenal’s Under-23s to Emery’s assistant head coach during the summer, will remain in charge. His first game at the helm will come away to Norwich on Sunday before a home game with Brighton and a London derby at West Ham.
Emery paid tribute to the club’s fans in an open letter on the Arsenal website on Friday evening, saying he “would have liked nothing more than to have achieved better results for you”.
“To all the fans, I want to thank you all from the bottom of my heart for helping me to understand and feel the greatness of Arsenal,” he wrote.
A letter of thanks to Arsenal from Unai Emery...— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 29, 2019
“To all of you who have supported us from every corner of the globe, all of you who have come to the Emirates, all of you who have waited in the rain and cold just to greet me after a game. I want to tell all of you that I have worked with passion, with commitment and with effort.”
He also thanked his players, adding: “They have always honoured the shirt they wear. They deserve your support.”
While the club pointed to results and performances not being good enough, the writing appeared to be on the wall for Emery for some time.
Communication issues with his players were confirmed when teenage winger Bukayo Saka admitted he sought out training ground conversations with Ljungberg over Emery as he struggled to understand the Spaniard’s broken English.
More than one player has claimed to have more contact with his former manager than with Emery, while some reports claim he was openly mocked by the squad and other club employees.
PA understands it was also a club decision to stop Emery using a translator for his media duties and that he was keen to continue having the fallback option if he struggled to understand press conference questions.
It is believed even his pre-match programme notes, which were originally crafted from leftover press conference quotes, were eventually being tweaked by the club with Emery having no approval over them.
Emery has had so many off-field issues to contend with, losing Aaron Ramsey on a free transfer to Juventus at the end of last season when it was clear he was key to Arsenal’s ambitions.
He then saw former captain Laurent Koscielny refuse to travel on a pre-season tour to the United States as he pushed through a move away from north London.
Granit Xhaka was eventually named his successor after Emery held a blind ballot among his squad to identify who they felt should wear the armband.
That, too, would come back to shoot Emery in the foot as Xhaka was stripped of the captaincy after swearing at supporters who jeered him following his substitution in a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace last month.
There was also upheaval behind the scenes as two of the men who made the decision to appoint Emery, chief executive Ivan Gazidis and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, departed within nine months.
Even the attempted carjacking of Mesut Ozil and Sead Kolasinac on the eve of the new season played a role in unsettling the squad.
Ozil, the club’s highest-paid player in the history of Arsenal, was also always an issue for Emery as he was unsure if the playmaker could cope with the rigours his tactics placed on his players.
A poor run of form which leaves Arsenal without a win since October 24 would ultimately cost Emery his job.
He was publicly backed by Sanllehi and Venkatesham during the international break but lasted only two more matches.