Unai Emery: I Had to 'Open Windows' to Reverse Arsenal Slump Under Arsene Wenger

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistNovember 22, 2018

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 11:  Unai Emery, Manager of Arsenal gives his team instructions during the Premier League match between Arsenal FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Emirates Stadium on November 11, 2018 in London, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has discussed his efforts to reverse the decline the team suffered under his predecessor, Arsene Wenger

The Spaniard replaced Wenger in the summer and spoke of his attempts to freshen things up at the club where, having had the same man in charge since 1996, things had become stale.

He told Juan Castro of Marca: "These days, it's very difficult for a coach to last 22 years. The chairs had to be moved in all sectors of the club. And not because of previous negligence but to motivate everyone again: to shake it up, to sweep things under the carpet, to open the windows, all positive things."

When asked whether he spoke to Wenger following his appointment, Emery said: "Not about the team. I ran into him once and not many more times. I respect him a lot, but no matter how much information he gave me, I had to change things."

The 47-year-old took the time to praise Wenger's impact on the Gunners but acknowledged the team were on a downward spiral by the end of his reign, saying:

"Before Wenger arrived, Arsenal celebrated the 1-0 wins and were based on defensive solidity. With Arsene, they became an attacking team, with players who were good on the ball. And the perfect combination came with The Invincibles.

"But with time, you can only take care of technique and attacking freedom, losing your defensive structure. What I want to do is unite the two and become more competitive. Arsenal were falling. We had to stop that and start to lift them."

Despite winning the FA Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2017, Wenger's latter-day Arsenal side had fallen far from the team he had that won three Premier League titles in the first eight years of his tenure.

The Gunners decline was most pronounced in his final two campaigns, as they finally dropped out of the top four. Last season, they finished sixth and shipped 51 goals, the worst league finish and defensive record of his tenure.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

Signs of decline had been in place for some time, though. Arsenal had not mounted many serious title challenges since they last won it in 2003/04, while in the UEFA Champions League, they exited in the last 16 for seven years running.

Things have been more positive since Emery took charge, though, and he is trying to make the team more adaptive to different situations.

"I want to create a team that know how to exploit the space, are able to counter-attack or, when there's no space, calmly find a way to create openings," he said. "We are in that process: create an idea, a style, be competitive."

Earlier in the campaign, Arsenal won 11 matches in a row. While the quality of opposition was a factorthe best teams they faced during that run were Everton, Leicester City and Sporting CP—the Arsenal of old would likely not have been able to continue picking up wins without being at their best.

The Gunners have drawn their past three matches, but they remain unbeaten since a 3-2 defeat to Chelsea on August 18.

Football writer James McNicholas was encouraged by their showing in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, and Liverpool writer Alex Mansfield was also impressed with the Gunners:

gunnerblog @gunnerblog

A lot to like about that. It definitely feels like we’re headed in the right direction.

Alex Mansfield @el_mansfield

Liverpool’s underperformance should take nothing away from the quality of Emery’s Arsenal. Dynamic, intense, scrappy, and zero sign of that soft underbelly that plagued the late Wenger reign. Beyond just “top 6 material” in my eyes

What might provide further encouragement is Emery's desire to "be demanding," of his players, something Wenger perhaps did not share enough in his latter years.

"Everyone was happy against Liverpool, but we only drew," Emery added. "It's not enough."

Arsenal aren't quite there defensively, having shipped 15 goals in 12 league matches, but midfielder Lucas Torreira has added some much-needed steel to their spine since his arrival in the summer.

Emery also seems to be more willing than Wenger to make bolder decisions, and they have often paid off:

Squawka Football @Squawka

5. What happened next? Unai Emery's 8 best impact substitutions for Arsenal this season - https://t.co/UNsxoKxu09 They've been involved in more goals (12) than any other Premier League side's subs. https://t.co/nR1JWxdM6m

It is still early days at the Emirates Stadium under Emery, and following Wenger was always going to be a difficult job for any coach.

It will require a full season or two before Emery's work can be properly assessed, but the signs are there that Arsenal are on an upward trajectory after years of decline.