Emery's Arsenal Masterpiece
Emery's Arsenal Masterpiece
Is football played in the mind of a coach, or on a field? Coaches are hired and fired on results, shouldn’t they be given a chance to implement their vision before being judged. This is the debate swirling around Arsenal’s new manager, Unai Emery, who has copped two defeats in his first two matches in charge, the worst start of a permanent Arsenal manager since 1897.
Some are already questioning whether he should adapt his high-pressing game given the losses to Man City and Chelsea. But Manchester United legend Gary Neville believes it’s crazy for Emery to consider watering down his approach this early in the season, “Unai Emery is not trying to get eight points from five games to avoid relegation. He's trying to build a team to win the title ... My view is this is a three-year project to try and get his ideas into the players. The last thing he should do in the early phase is lose control of the dressing room by adapting and taking away his principles.”
That is surely the sensible opinion. Critics of Arsene Wenger note that he was rather indulgent to his star players and that the Frenchman was not entirely meritocratic in his selections. By contrast Emery expressed admiration for Pep Guardiola’s approach when appointed Barcelona coach. Deco and Ronaldinho were expendable because they did not fit the Guardiola vision. Emery put it this way… “(they) got rid of the obstacle preventing them from completing their masterpiece.”
Guardiola and Emery share a link. They are both fans of Marcelo Bielsa, an Argentine who some consider, “the Godfather of modern football.” Bielsa was recently put in charge of Leeds, who find themselves atop the EFL Championship standings after four games. Bielsa is one of the most influential thinkers in the game, with his four cornerstones of: “movement, rotation, concentration and improvisation”. In Bielsa’s strategy formations are fluid and players are trained to swarm the opposition in defence and stretch them on attack, transitioning rapidly between defence and attack.
It’s the type of football Man City are paying under Guardiola and it’s what Emery wants from Arsenal. Remember that for Emery the line between defence an attack is thin. It would be more correct in his football philosophy to talk not of defenders and attackers, but of defender-attackers and attacker-defenders. Little wonder that pressure is starting to build on Mesut Ozil, who could not contain Chelsea’s Jorginho in defence. Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka could also find themselves on the wrong side of Emery’s vision.
It’s fair to say that the Arsenal board have bought into the Emery way of doing things. Fans who were frustrated by Wenger’s unambitious approach to the game will be energised by a man who wants to create a “masterpiece”, and who says things like: “What I have learned is that you need to be ready to use all [your] means and experiences to prevent anything from slowing your project down.”
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