It was only a matter of time before Unai Emery was going to get the sack. The 2-1 loss to Adi Hutter’s Eintracht Frankfurt drilled the final nail in the Spaniard’s coffin. It was a familiar gloomy performance from Emery’s desolate side – it was clueless, planless and it hardly gave the impression that players knew what to do.
It has become a rather over-used narrative- that Emery has not put down a system at Arsenal. He indeed did fail to lay down one specific shape, let alone getting players on his side. He never got to know about the strengths and weaknesses of his players, with his inability to get a grip of English not helping at all.
There’s no denying that the Spaniard deserved the sack. But what has followed since his axing shows that this ‘cluelessness’ never just existed at the managerial level.
The names coming out from the media are multiple. From Gianluca di Marzio claiming that the Gunners have made contact for Nuno Santo to Sky Sports claiming the same for Massimiliano Allegri, there are so many options. Names like Chris Wilder, Eddie Howe, Brendan Rodgers, Mikel Arteta and Carlo Ancelotti are also on the list, say Sky Sports.
That, in itself, should alarm Arsenal fans. Some of them have spent the last few months going on about how Emery doesn’t have a plan. But as things stand, the board doesn’t know what is the way forward. Arsenal Football Club don’t have a plan – like Emery never did.
So many managers on that list play differing brands of football. Santo predominantly plays a counter-attacking brand of football in a back three/five. Wolves play deep in their half and rely on quick transitions to score.
Allegri used varying formations at Juventus to put forward a pragmatic brand of football. He did start with the 3-5-2 that Antonio Conte had left behind, but it slowly went onto be a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 and went back to a 3-5-2 sometimes.
Allegri won the Scudetto in every single season, taking the Bianconeri to two Champions League finals. By the end of his stint in Turin, things were very drab and overly pragmatic. An argument can be made that Juve won the league last season because the likes of Napoli and Inter slackened off.
Wilder’s Blades have left the Premier League dazzled. Their style of overlapping centre-halves in a 3-5-2 shape has been pragmatic and aesthetic in equal measure. Their defensive organisation has made Sheffield one of the best defensive sides in the league this season.
Leicester have been playing an attractive brand of football under Rodgers in a 4-3-3, while Eddie Howe is the longest-serving boss in the Premier League currently. The former Burnley manager took many unknown players up from the lower divisions up to the Premier League, turning them into household names. He has done a remarkable job in turning what was an unknown club into Premier League regulars.
Howe usually uses a 4-4-2 shape with two box-to-box midfielders. Over the years, they have acquired the maturity and flexibility in playing styles.
Carlo Ancelotti, who is harbouring a toxic ship in Naples, is a winner. He is a pragmatist, but he is a man manager more than anything. He is an expert at handling egos – like he has done with many clubs in the past.
Don Carlo needs a club where the foundation has already been laid. He had that foundation at the Partenopei because of what Maurizio Sarri had done. Things are going awry and he’s changed formations too often (from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2), but the real blame lies elsewhere.
Pep Guardiola’s assistant Arteta would probably preach a brand of football that the former Barcelona man brings. He could promise a possession-brand of football that relies on triangular passing and movement, with immense tactical astuteness.
The opportunities are endless for the Gunners. But they will look to another part of North London and see a more decisive club. They will see Tottenham- a club that always had a plan about Jose Mourinho if Mauricio Pochettino ever left. They knew what path they will take if the Argentine’s situation went stale.
Pochettino’s sacking came as a shock. For Emery, things were of the essence for the last few weeks. The board, if they had footballing brains, would know that the Spaniard wasn’t going to last long. But here they are, looking for options like it is all one massive shock.
But Arsenal would look to Manchester United too. A club with a similar context to where Emery came in. United have been left wrecked by a lack of planning or continuity in managerial hirings.
The hiring of a rather defensive manager in David Moyes was followed by the appointment of Louis van Gaal. The Iron Tulip has always got his side play a possession brand of football- like he did at Old Trafford. From there, they made a U-turn in Mourinho’s appointment. From a manager who likes all the possession, they went to a manager who is better off without any of it.
And once Jose got the axe, they went for a manager who believes in fluid and attacking football- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Arsenal should look at that and not take any inspiration, if they aren’t already. United don’t present the best example of how to go about hiring managers. Arsenal are showing signs of how they could well be on the same path.
They don’t really know what they want to do. Do they want the club to play how Arsene Wenger’s side played? Or do they want the club to go a pragmatic route and emphasise on getting players back on their side? In what could be a watershed moment in the history of the club, they are in the middle of immense uncertainty.
In their minds, the Kroenkes would be tottering from one approach to another philosophy. In truth, they should know what’s the way forward. But in what seems like a wishy-washy list, they are running the risk of breaking continuity. If they get the next appointment wrong, they wouldn’t be far from the situation Manchester United are in.
Like Emery, they would roam about without a concrete identity. A club like Arsenal doesn’t deserve that.