On Friday, November 29, Arsenal pulled the plug under head coach Unai Emery, midway through his second season at the helm of affairs at the London club.
The decision came on the heels of uninspiring results under the Spaniard coach with fans getting agitated following a spate of poor results where the Gunners did not win a single match in seven attempts.
It was a decision that has been a long time coming, but after a lacklustre 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League in front of an empty Emirates Stadium on Thursday night, there was no more patience left for the seemingly helpless Emery.
But why did Arsenal finally make the decision? What led them to the sack Emery?
Here are the five major reasons why they said ‘goodbye’ to the Spaniard.
1. A lack of identity
With 18 months into the job, the Gunners have lacked an identity. Even the players have been confused with Emery’s tactics and tactical tenets as they struggle all season to get a grip on what he had to pass on to them.
Muddled team selections, poor communication which his poor English did not help, and relentless tinkering all led to a lack of a clear identity.
Emery had stated in the summer that he wants his team to be extremely adaptable, such that they can play in a variety of ways depending on the opponent they face. But his adjustments were such that they redefined how his team played every week. The players simply could not cope.
While Arsene Wenger gave his players so much freedom that they needed instruction to define their style of play, Emery gave them so many instructions, and so many different instructions, that they crossed wires, confused the players, and led to the same outcome: a team that lacked identity.
2. Failing to deliver on promises
When Unai Emery introduced himself to the team, his management style, and the tactical tenets with which he would approach the job, he used two key words: that he wanted his players to be ‘protagonists’ and that he would implement ‘intense pressing’. 18 months later, and these promises were obviously empty.
There were moments when these tactical approaches came to pass. Victories against Chelsea and Spurs showed that Emery was beginning to loosen the attacking strings, unleash his players, and make the most of a high-intensity pressing game to suffocate the opposition, recover possession and break with speed and ferocity on an exposed defence. But on the whole, these matches were the anomalies, not the norm.
But sadly, this excitement was empty, as were Emery’s early promises.
3. Top four slipping away
For those that called for Arsenal to fire Unai Emery a long time before Friday morning, their primary reasons centred on the performances of the team and overall progression of the squad.
But the board seemed unmoved by these arguments. Rather, it was not until the results began to tail off that they grew concerned about the trajectory of Emery’s management.
Performances lead to results and the fact that Arsenal performed poorly under Emery throughout his tenure, even when they were winning, meant that they were going to start losing eventually and once the results tailed off in recent months, the sack was inevitable.
Arsenal have not won a match in seven games, the first time since 1992 that has happened. They are suffering their worst start to a season since 1983. They have just four Premier League wins all season and have just 26 points in their last 20 games, which is not far off relegation pace.
Most pertinently, they are eight points behind top four, with Leicester City another three points clear.
4. Too conservative
Unai Emery was too conservative for a team that were used to playing with so much flair and ability. When he was at Sevilla and Valencia, he would set his team up defensively as they battled against the might of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but at Arsenal, he needed to implement an attacking, controlling identity that allowed his team to impose themselves on their opposition over and over again. But he couldn’t. He was too conservative, too defensive.
It is this tactical tendency that meant Arsenal did well against other good teams. Emery is very adept at setting his team up to defend. It is why he has enjoyed great success in the Europa League.
But against lesser teams, when the onus is on his team to attack, to create, to dominate matches week after week after week, he lacked the freedom of expression required.
5. Regression from Arsene Wenger
At the end of the 2018 season, Arsenal had confirmed their place in the Europa League for the second successive season, slipped to sixth in the Premier League, and found themselves miles behind the other elite teams in England, especially Manchester City and Liverpool.
Arsene Wenger’s final 50 games were the worst period of his tenure in north London. And yet, in Unai Emery’s first 50 games as Arsenal head coach, the Gunners were worse in almost every category imaginable.
The team won only 25 matches, scored 89 goals and conceded 68, which is a very poor record for a big team like Arsenal.