Can Emery bring the good times back to north London, or is time running out after just one season in charge?
Arsenal v Burnley, Saturday 17 August, 12pm, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527)
It’s the height of summer, but that doesn’t matter. Nothing outside matters anymore, because the Premier League is back. So close those curtains! Deny the existence of the sun! It’s time for Arsenal versus Burnley, live and exclusive on BT Sport!
Arsenal have started the campaign with a cloud of doubt hanging over their manager, Unai Emery. Last season was ultimately a disappointment for the Gunners, leaving some fans wondering whether the Spaniard really was the right choice to bring the silverware back to North London.
Does Emery ultimately have what it takes to steer the club to glory in the long run? Before Arsenal go head to head with the Clarets live on BT Sport, two writers argue for and against the man in the Emirates hot seat…
Is Emery the right man for Arsenal?
Alex Finnis: YES! He’s genuinely improved the team
He’s made them stronger against their rivals
Arsenal’s shocking form against their top six rivals was a sorry hallmark of Wenger’s final years at the club. In 2016-17 they won just two of a possible ten games against Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham. They were even worse the year after, reaping just six points from an available 30. Things improved under Emery in his first season. He managed three wins and three draws, but most importantly for the Emirates faithful, he didn’t lose to Spurs. Progress.
He’s honed the league’s most lethal strike force
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal have two proper goal machines. The club hasn’t boasted such offensive talent since Robin van Persie left in 2012 (apologies to Olivier Giroud, but he was always better in front of a mirror than in front of goal). More importantly, Emery knows how to use them. He found a way to get both of them on the pitch at the same time last season, playing off each other, and the result was 35 Premier League goals between them. The aim this season should be to crack 40. And with £72m winger Nicolas Pépé joining the side, they should get plenty of service.
He’s got the team dreaming of European glory
Despite Arsenal’s rich history, they’ve never really managed to crack Europe. The 1969-70 Fairs Cup and 1993-94 European Cup Winners’ Cup are getting lonely in the trophy cabinet. In Emery, Arsenal have the perfect man to find them a new friend. His unprecedented three straight Europa League titles with Sevilla made him one of Europe’s top coaches, and he reached the final of the same competition with Arsenal at the first time of asking. With the race for the top four so competitive these days, winning the Europa League might be the easiest route back into the Champions League.
Jack Prescott: NO! Arsenal are still a soft touch
The fear factor still isn’t there
After one season in charge, has Unai Emery changed the perception of Arsenal? Absolutely not. While getting to the Europa League Final was a nice surprise, the Gunners are still synonymous with, in the words of Roy Keane, six packs and selfies. Sead “you best run away” Kolašinac aside, the team lacks the mettle required to consistently challenge for top honours. Emery still has time on his side, but the decision-makers at the Emirates will be tempted to swing the axe should the Spaniard not turn his charges from unpredictable showboaters into a ruthless winning machine.
Spurs remain a problem
So long as Tottenham keep finishing above Arsenal (it’s happened three times on the bounce now) Gunners fans won’t be happy. Forget winning the Premier League and challenging the big boys in Europe; the biggest challenge currently facing Arsenal is whether they can reassert themselves as the best team in North London. Because playing second fiddle to Spurs pains supporters like nothing else. Should they fail to do that this season (which is very likely, considering the momentum their rivals have right now) Emery could well find himself looking for a new club.
He can’t handle the pressure
Towards the end of last season, Arsenal had a ‘mare. Losing three, winning one and drawing one of their last five Premier League games provided an ugly finish to the domestic campaign. With a place in the top four on the line, Emery struggled badly to inspire his team over the line. Beating the likes of Crystal Palace, Wolves and Brighton should be a given at any stage of the season, let alone when it’s crunch time. More results like that this season and Emery might just have to fire up his LinkedIn profile and start looking for a new job.
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