Metic­u­lous prepa­ra­tion the key to Emery’s revo­lu­tion

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - SOCCER - DAVID HYT­NER

Back when Ar­se­nal was the per­sonal fief­dom of Arsène Wenger, the play­ers would fin­ish train­ing and some­times feel they could do it all again. Mod­ern pro­fes­sion­als are sup­posed to need a sleep af­ter train­ing. Wenger’s usu­ally did not.

It is a dif­fer­ent story now. Un­der Unai Emery the play­ers know they have worked, and they cer­tainly sleep. It is one ex­am­ple of the shift­ing sands at the club, but, when the broader pic­ture is laid out, it adds up to revo­lu­tion. “We’ve started from scratch, ba­si­cally, with the new man­ager,” goal­keeper Petr Cech says. “It feels like a new club,” full­back Hec­tor Bel­lerin be­lieves.

A wide­spread view has taken root. The only things left stand­ing from the Wenger era are the walls. Emery is not the most ob­vi­ous revo­lu­tion­ary, but his meth­ods and char­ac­ter con­trast so sharply with those of Wenger that he ap­pears like one. In terms of train­ing, match prepa­ra­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, men­tal­ity and the ap­proach to player de­vel­op­ment and care, ev­ery­thing is dif­fer­ent.

What’s more, there is a good feel­ing in the dress­in­groom. Every­body knows what would have hap­pened if the team had lost back-to-back fix­tures at the start of the sea­son un­der Wenger. But when they did un­der Emery – against Manch­ester City and Chelsea – there was no panic. Equally, af­ter eight sub­se­quent wins on the spin in all com­pe­ti­tions, and go­ing into to­mor­row’s Premier League trip to Ful­ham, there has been no rush to ac­claim Emery as the best thing ever. The mood is bal­anced, qui­etly op­ti­mistic.

Un­der wraps

Peo­ple do not know what to make of Emery, and by say­ing noth­ing at his press con­fer­ences he has given them no chance to pass any judg­ment on his per­son­al­ity. The Spa­niard re­mains un­der wraps and it feels cal­cu­lated. Peo­ple are try­ing to work him out. Emery, mean­while, is just work­ing. It is what he does, and has al­ways done, since his first job at Llorca in Spain’s sec­ond di­vi­sion B in 2004-05. “I’m not the kind of coach who says: ‘Let’s do a few piggy-in-the-mid­dle ex­er­cises and go home for lunch’,” Emery once said. “I was a sec­ond di­vi­sion B player and I’ve had to work very hard. I tell the play­ers: ‘The mo­ment we stop work­ing hard on this, as soon as we stop ded­i­cat­ing hours to this, we’ll fall’.”

It is not only what Emery does in train­ing at Ar­se­nal but when and where. He is ob­sessed by the small de­tails, and he will train on the day be­fore a game at the same time as the kick-off, or as close to it as pos­si­ble if it is an evening game. Be­fore home league matches he has looked to train the day be­fore­hand at the Emi­rates.

Emery’s ses­sions are far more tac­ti­cal than those of Wenger, and he has tried to in­stil his press­ing sys­tem to­gether with be­spoke pat­terns of play. He wants to “gen­er­ate su­pe­ri­or­ity” – in other words, have a man over in cer­tain ar­eas of the pitch – and he likes play­ers who can play in more than one po­si­tion. Emery’s Ar­se­nal will never play long; they build from the back, and although his struc­tures are not rigid there is struc­ture all the same. Can float­ing play­ers fit in such as Aaron Ram­sey? The club’s de­ci­sion to with­draw its of­fer of a new con­tract to the mid­fielder ad­ver­tises the an­swer.

A mark of his early weeks has been Emery’s abil­ity to turn the tide of games go­ing against his team. The 2-0 home win over Ever­ton two weeks ago was a prime ex­am­ple. Ar­se­nal did not con­nect in the first hal­fand they needed a string of saves from Cech to keep them at 0-0. But Emery made ad­just­ments at half-time and they worked.

The ob­vi­ous crit­i­cism in­volves the ques­tion of why Emery can­not get it right at the out­set, but these are glass half-full times. Emery’s read­ing of games is one of his strengths. Ten of Ar­se­nal’s 14 league goals have come in the sec­ond half of matches. His prepa­ra­tions are metic­u­lous. They are tai­lored to each op­po­nent, with the use of video anal­y­sis key, and they be­gin with an hour-long de­brief from the pre­vi­ous game. On a big screen ev­ery mis­take is pin­pointed, along with the good bits. Play­ers are en­cour­aged to see why a par­tic­u­lar op­tion is best.

Emery has de­manded that the squad have lunch to­gether, and he has made it plain that his door is al­ways open. “Clar­ity” is a buzz­word. The club takes reg­u­lar blood tests from the play­ers, and has been keen to ex­plain the re­sults in de­tail to them. Yet it is the re­sults on the field that mat­ter the most. Emery is build­ing mo­men­tum. – Guardian

Unai Emery: ses­sions are far more tac­ti­cal than those of Arsène Wenger

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