Considering Arsenal are on course to achieve their targets for the season there has been a remarkable groundswell of opinion against Unai Emery.
Eight games into the season Arsenal sit third in the table and within touching distance of Manchester City. League leaders Liverpool might have disappeared off into the sunset but the Gunners hold an advantage over all the sides they were expected to vie with for a top four finish this season.
Emery headed into his second campaign in charge well aware of what Arsenal expected of him and if he needed any further reminder Raul Sanllehi spelled it out for him on Thursday night at a fan’s forum.
“We said to Unai that we just missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last year, but this year with a stronger squad, we expect you to do that,” the head of football told fans.
That is the target but how is Emery faring overall?
football.london examines the key facets on which a manager should be judged and assesses how Emery is faring.
Tactics and style of play
Perhaps the greatest divide between Emery and Arsenal supporters lies in the style of play he has implemented at the Emirates Stadium. There was almost inevitably going to be a stylistic shock after Arsene Wenger left; whoever succeeded him would surely not have such lofty goals as translating football to artistic planes.
One of the defining features of Wenger’s later years was the stockpiling of diminutive No.10s, a moment defined by him signing Mesut Ozil for the hell of it when he already had the league’s best creator in Santi Cazorla. The identity of ‘Emeryball’, meanwhile, has become defined through the preponderance of defensive midfielders he deploys in big games.
Emery’s greatest critics would even go so far as to question whether there is a footballing identity there. He would challenge that and so would the Arsenal hierarchy. They want to be a team that presses aggressively and wins the ball high up the pitch – hence the repurposing of Lucas Torreira into an advanced role – but too often their manager’s tendency to adjust his plans for his opponents means that that is not seen.
Instead Arsenal are too often stultifyingly slow in their build-up whilst conversely cavalier when playing out from the back. At their worst their gameplan seems to revolve around little more than giving it to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. It does work though.
Intriguingly the occasions an Arsenal identity has been most visible are when fringe and youth players come to the fore. The likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka have offered the defensive acumen Emery demands from his forwards, allowing the Gunners to press and explode into transitions high up the pitch.