Arsenal’s New Manager Unai Emery pledges to Revive Fans Lost Love for Club
The Last few Seasons for Arsenal have been tough. Both Fans and Rivals know this, The club fell out of the top 4, saw its (remarkable) consecutive Champions League status streak snapped, then missed Top 4 (its Bread and Butter 2wice in a row) The gap between Arsenal and the other top clubs was no longer a gap. It was a chasm.
Manchester City and Liverpool , 2 Clubs who were beneath Arsenal in recent times began to play the kind of exciting, freewheeling, attacking football that had once been an Arsenal hallmark. The Gunners ran about looking disorganized and lacking ideas. The standard had clearly fallen, and the Fans knew this cried out to the Authorities but met deaf ears.
Then things became increasingly negative poor result after poor result,They became more upset with what they perceived as a lack of ambition from the club, and more disillusioned with the leadership of Arsene Wenger. The undercurrent of dissent grew into an angry buzzing and then from that to loud chants and protest signs from fans at matches.
And then after a while the fans stopped showing up altogether for games at the stadium. The once enviable fortress the Emirates Stadium became a parody of its old self. It was only at this point the Board began to take note, as empty seats is a big sign that all is not well.
Arsenal want those fans to come back. They want them to love the squad again, to fill every seat at the Emirates, and to enjoy being a part of Arsenal Football Club. I’m sure the managerial change and the front office restructure will help accomplish that. Indeed, it might be all that some fans needed.
But talk is cheap (and the irony of writing that in a piece about a speech is not lost on me). Some fans will reserve judgment, will want to see it to believe it, and may not be happy until Arsenal are back in the Champions League or at least markedly closer to it.
It seems to me that new manager Unai Emery’s speech on wednesday was directed specifically at those fans, the ones for whom the trust has eroded and the love has faded.
Emery’s remarks were positive yet conciliatory, and they were not subtle. There was no reading between the lines to glean his meaning. His points might as well have been displayed on a gigantic, flashing neon marquee.
It’s impossible not to notice the words ‘ambitious’ and ‘working hard’ in that quote. Heck, he uses a form of ‘ambition’ three times in the span of two sentences. It’s a not-so-subtle way of telling the supporters, “I hear you. I understand what you want to see. I’m going to give that to you.”
Emery also doubled down on what he said in his opening press conference – essentially that he would rather win a high-scoring game than a low-scoring one. Again, it’s hard not to draw a straight line between his remarks and what was making supporters unhappy.
But there’s a lot more going on here than just reassuring fans he’s going to put an exciting product on the pitch. Even though the results faltered at the end, Arsene Wenger coached his teams to play beautiful, attacking football. Wenger’s Arsenal did it so well that it became part of the identity of the club. Emery is acknowledging that identity here – he understands that many Arsenal supporters want their team not only to win, but also to win by playing “the right way.”
Emery used the 1-0 scoreline intentionally. It’s a nod to the history of the club, another cherished part of what makes Arsenal, well, Arsenal. For years, if not decades, prior to Wenger’s arrival, Arsenal’s “identity” was also embodied in the “1-0 TO THE ARSENAL” chant that rang out around Highbury and, later on, more ironically in the Emirates’ early years as Wenger’s attacking, flowing style took hold.
Arsenal’s identity prior to Wenger was as a defense-first, highly disciplined team, so much so that Arsenal’s defense became Legendary
By Emery specifically referencing that scoreline, it seems he’s deliberately setting out his stall to be a much less defense-first manager, less in the mold of George Graham and more in the mold of the Manchester City and Liverpool model. He’s unmistakably asserting himself, putting his stamp on things, and taking control of the club.
And that stuff about ‘emotion’ and ‘the best feeling in football’ sounds kinda familiar, doesn’t it? That’s because it sounds like something Arsene Wenger would say. I can’t tell you if it’s a deliberate homage, an unintentional coincidence, or just me reading into things too much (and maybe overreacting to a few sentences), but once made, the connection is hard to unmake. In the midst of the most change the club has seen in decades, it’s comforting to hear something familiar, like an old favorite song that always makes you smile.
Arsene Wenger was a philosopher-manager, a man who believed that football was about more than the best way to take a free kick. He once said, “I am a facilitator of what is beautiful in man,” which sounds very Wengerlike
Unai Emery seems to be a little cut from the same cloth. He’s known for his meticulous attention to tactics and strategy, but that quote shows that he understands there’s more to football than X’s and O’s.
Will his approach buff away the tarnish and restore Arsenal to its former glory? Who knows. It’s an extremely tall order. But he’s saying the right things. I’ll buy what he’s selling. Preseason starts on Monday, and for the first time in years, I’m excited.