An Inside Look at How Unai Emery Is Restoring Arsenal to Greatness

Dean Jones@DeanJonesBRFootball Insider at Bleacher ReportOctober 25, 2018

An Inside Look at How Unai Emery Is Restoring Arsenal to Greatness

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    For Unai Emery, taking over from Arsene Wenger was the perfect path into English football.

    In the final years of Wenger's reign, Arsenal Football Club had lost its identity as one of the country's most feared and respected institutes. Arsenal's players had become too comfortable and nonchalant. Arsenal's fans had become impatient and angry.

    Emery's last job at Paris Saint-Germain had become difficult, too, largely because of the egos and expectation he was having to manage, but he saw the job in north London as an opportunity to revolutionise one of Europe's top clubs.

    Opening defeats to Manchester City and Chelsea suggested this could be another campaign of frustration, but since then, the door has opened to a whole new world. The club is entering a new age, and Emery is introducing discipline, boldness and confidence back to the regime.

    Gone are the days when players could afford to be slack and lazy. Back are the days of mesmerising passing moves and scintillating goals.

    Arsenal have won 10 in a row, and Emery's Gunners really are a force to be reckoned with.

Putting the Players in Their Place

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    It was his first day in charge at Arsenal's London Colney training base, and Emery began to survey the squad he had adopted.

    With a whistle tied around his neck and a clipboard in his hands, the new boss set about changing the atmosphere and mentality around the club.

    Players began the day in good spirits—relaxed and joking. They ended that first day in no doubt that the Wenger era was over.

    Emery and his coaching staff had run the team through fitness drills and then moved them to a different part of the training complex to cast an eye over their technique in some precise exercises designed to judge how they might fit into his vision.

    Sidekick Juan Carlos Carcedo was central to the instructions being given out, and by the end of small-sided games at the end of the day, players were beginning to understand how disciplined and organised the season would be.

    Emery pays huge attention to minor details. The time and location of each training session is decided in relation to their upcoming game. The intensity of sessions is never allowed to ease off amid a fear the same thing could then happen on a matchday.

    Under Wenger, the rules were more loose. He had been at the club so long that players had learned how far they could push his boundaries without risking their place in the side. Under Emery, no one is safe. Even the elite players understand they are not untouchable.

Confronting Big Issues

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    It comes as no surprise that Mesut Ozil was the first big name targeted as a possible weakness.

    His attitude and body language have been questioned before for club and country, so when reports surfaced in August of a fall-out between Emery and his No. 10, there was little reason to doubt them.

    The former Germany international had been substituted in a defeat to Chelsea and was then missing from the team against West Ham United. It was said there had been a falling out as the boss was demanding more from Ozil. Emery later tried to say the player had just been struggling with illness.

    Still, Emery was introducing a high-intensity style of football to the squad, and insiders at Arsenal told Bleacher Report there were genuine concerns over how Ozil would fit in.

    Training sessions were relentless, with players left in no doubt that if they could not fulfil the pressing manner of play they would not be in the team—no matter their other strengths. Thankfully, Ozil's ego is not quite at the same level as some of those Emery worked with at PSG, and he has managed to start thinking differently. It is perhaps no coincidence that the 30-year-old is now producing such impressive form.

    He seems to have embraced Emery's high-intensity philosophy and taken on board messages that he must work hard in every element of the game.

    Freedom was something he took for granted under Wenger, but he is now flourishing under the new, more restricted guidelines. He has now seen that the hard yards pay off, as Arsenal's attacking players are allowed to express themselves once they win the ball back.

The Beautiful Game

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    The pace and creativity of their counter-attacks this season have been breathtaking, resulting in particularly special goals against Brentford, Fulham and Leicester City.

    Players seem comfortable in both their ability and decision-making, and it has probably been born from the fact their boss is a decisive man himself.

    His English still needs improvement—he's working on that—but he is managing to put across his belief that no one in the land is capable of playing the ball from back-to-front as quickly as this Arsenal team.

    There are some great memories of Arsenal goals from the Wenger era, when the ball would be swept from one end of the pitch to the other.

    It became less common in his later years as the players were not clinical enough. But Emery has ensured that beautiful brand of football exists—with a ruthless nature now built in thanks to hard work on the training ground with the forward players, particularly Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

    Arsenal's confidence on the ball is evident these days, but under Wenger, the team were not playing with enough risk.

    Emery identified early on that there needed to be more emphasis on encouraging players to attempt the most effective path to goal, even if it was more difficult than other options. That is shining through, and Arsenal have not failed to score since the first day of the season.

Looking to the Future

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    Emery is focused on his coaching role right now, improving the players and shaping the team to become a genuine force again at the Premier League summit. But his long-term plan runs deeper.

    In an age when it is difficult for the team boss to control other areas of the club, sources close to Emery believe he does want to have a bigger hold.

    He will never have a job as wide-reaching as Wenger's once was, but one source told B/R: "If this first season goes as well as he thinks it can, then next summer he will start looking at impacting the club in other areas. It will not be too long before he looks for conversations about how they target the transfer market as that is a huge area of the club that they have to get right in order to keep moving the team forwards."

    There are no major plans for the January market—Arsenal will leave that window alone unless good opportunities are presented to them. But there are signs that Arsenal's thought process is changing when it comes to signing players, as moving forward there is going to be less reluctance to sign players aged 30 or over. Previously at the club, the potential sell-on value of new players had been all-consuming, but that should ease a little.

    As such, one man being targeted is Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega, according to Sami Mokbel of the Daily Mail.

    The writing is already on the wall for Aaron Ramsey, who Banega is being eyed to replace, and Danny Welbeck's future is in doubt, too. But Arsenal fans are likely to trust Emery as he pieces together his own north London puzzle.

    They have waited a long time to discover what a future looked like without Wenger—and right now it is looking pretty rosy.

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