Why Arsenal's problems do not end with sacking Unai Emery


Phil Costa

Article image: Why Arsenal's problems do not end with sacking Unai Emery

On Friday, November 29, Arsenal finally parted ways with Unai Emery.

The Spaniard’s arrival was met with goodwill and optimism after the lengthy 22-year reign of Arsène Wenger but things began to sour quickly.

Emery had already lost support in some quarters after failing to secure Champions League qualification – via the league or a Europa League win – and despite a positive summer transfer window, results eventually proved his downfall.

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And when Freddie Ljungberg was appointed interim coach, the malaise instantly lifted. There were smiles on faces in training. The fans were united behind an Invincible.

Unfortunately for those fans, Arsenal’s problems run far deeper than their recently departed coach.

To understand the club you must delve deeper behind the scenes.

In theory, Arsenal are run by chairman Sir Chips Keswick, owner Stan Kroenke, and fellow board members Lord Harris and Ken Friar.

Josh Kroenke – son of Stan – also enjoys a more prominent role.

Then you have a head of football in Raul Sanllehi, managing director Vinai Venkatesham, contracts negotiator Huss Fahmy and more recently, Edu, who arrived as technical director.

The north London outfit went from having one person with too many responsibilities in Wenger, to too many cooks in less than 18 months.

And things are far from harmonious.

Highly regarded chief scout Sven Mislintat was forced out in January after a power struggle with Sanllehi, with Keswick reportedly ‘threatening to resign’ after feeling frozen out from decision-making processes.

The former chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, spent ten years at Emirates Stadium, worked to put a modern structure in place and ran off to Milan without seeing his project through; thus contributing to the initial power vacuum.

The current leadership structure is also under increased scrutiny for allowing Emery’s tenure to continue for so long, with communication often lacking clarity and authority.

But off the pitch concerns don’t necessarily have to impact what happens on the pitch.

Unless your squad is significantly top heavy, lacking physical requirements for Premier League football and mentally vulnerable whenever pushed.

Quite simply, Arsenal have been too reliant on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette for too long.

Non penalty goals in the Premier League this season:

  • Aubameyang (7)
  • Lacazette (4)
  • Torreira (1)
  • Pépé, Özil, Ceballos, Willock, Saka, Nelson (0)

Granted, this profligacy can be attributed to Emery’s lack of adventure, but look even further back and the numbers aren’t pretty.

Aubameyang has scored 25 goals in 2019, Lacazette has 10 and third best is 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli – who joined the club this summer – with seven.

And at the other end? Bernd Leno is the busiest top flight goalkeeper having made 59 saves already this term.

Uncertainty continues to cloud the future of Nicolas Pépé, whose club record arrival was meant to spearhead a new era.

The 24-year-old has played just 58 Premier League minutes out of a possible 360 since his brace against Vitória in October, and looks completely out of favour.

Lucas Torreira is also flirting with an exit after finding himself alienated under Emery – who initially preferred Steven N’Zonzi before being overruled.

These were two of the brightest young players in Europe, now struggling to establish themselves in a muddled squad.

Money is clearly available to spend but players must be targeted intelligently, with tactical ideas in mind.

There is an exciting young core to build around with Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka, Martinelli and William Saliba arriving next summer – lean into that.

Whether it’s Ljungberg, Mauricio Pochettino or Mikel Arteta, having an identifiable playing style to adhere to comes hand in hand with recruitment.

Ultimately, what the club must learn from their post-Wenger future revolves around transparency.

To their credit, Josh Kroenke has made a note of addressing fans publicly and through official media channels, as have Sanllehi and Venkatesham.

But holding a clear idea of what their values are, their vision for the club and communicating those accurately would make immeasurable difference.

Replacing the manager was just the start.