Emery is feel­ing the heat at Arse­nal

Coach knows fans are rest­less af­ter dis­ap­point­ing sea­son

The Standard (St. Catharines) - - Sports -

LON­DON — Rewind a year, and Arse­nal was head­ing into the new sea­son with re­newed vigour and op­ti­mism. But ahead of the up­com­ing cam­paign there is an all-too-fa­mil­iar sink­ing feel­ing sur­round­ing the club.

In 2018, Unai Emery had been ap­pointed as head coach as the cur­tain came down on Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign.

There had also been im­proved busi­ness in the trans­fer mar­ket, and a shakeup of back­room staff had sup­port­ers dream­ing of a re­turn to the Premier League’s top four.

A four-month un­beaten run did lit­tle to quell the ex­pec­ta­tions but, ul­ti­mately, Emery’s newlook out­fit came up short once more.

Stut­ter­ing over the line in the league cost it a place in the Cham­pi­ons League po­si­tions as they fin­ished a point be­hind ri­val Tot­ten­ham, while a sec­ond shot at qual­i­fi­ca­tion ended around 4,000 kilo­me­tres away as it lost the Europa League fi­nal 4-1 to Chelsea in Baku.

Af­ter a rest­less off-sea­son, Arse­nal spent 72 mil­lion pounds on Lille winger Ni­co­las Pepe in a record trans­fer fee for the Lon­don club.

Sup­port­ers had started to grow rest­less at the lack of trans­fer ac­tiv­ity in the off-sea­son, with only 18-year-old striker Gabriel Martinelli added un­til Real Madrid mid­fielder Dani Ce­bal­los came in on a sea­son-long loan deal.

Promis­ing de­fender Wil­liam Sal­iba was also signed from St. Eti­enne, but he has re­turned to the Ligue 1 out­fit on loan un­til next sum­mer.

The cur­rent crop of play­ers would have also been un­set­tled when then cap­tain Lau­rent Ko­scielny re­fused to travel on a pre­sea­son tour of the United States af­ter a re­quest to have his con­tract ter­mi­nated a year early was re­jected by the Gun­ners. Ko­scielny’s move to French team Bordeaux was an­nounced Tues­day.

Add to that a groundswel­l of dis­con­tent from sup­port­ers — which saw fans’ groups unite to is­sue a state­ment to owner Stan Kroenke call­ing for “bet­ter lead­er­ship” and crit­i­ciz­ing the “soul­less” at­mos­phere at home games — and a per­ceived lack of trans­fer ac­tiv­ity, and it was a tur­bu­lent off-sea­son for the club.

See­ing Edu, a for­mer Arse­nal mid­fielder and mem­ber of Wenger’s un­beaten “In­vin­ci­bles,” come on board as tech­ni­cal direc­tor will ap­pease some fans.

But Emery now has the dif­fi­cult task of get­ting re­sults on the field. With Manch­ester City and Liver­pool again most peo­ple’s favourites to fight it out for the ti­tle and Spurs in­vest­ing and seem­ingly ready to build on its Cham­pi­ons League fi­nal ap­pear­ance, sneak­ing back into the top four may be the best the Spa­niard can hope for.

Im­prov­ing the de­fen­sive unit is the key, given the club’s player of the sea­son Alexan­dre La­cazette and Premier League golden boot win­ner Pierre-Em­er­ick Aubameyang are again likely to pro­vide plenty of am­mu­ni­tion at the other end of the pitch.

Los­ing Aaron Ram­sey on a free trans­fer to Ju­ven­tus was an­other dif­fi­cult pill for sup­port­ers to swal­low over the sum­mer, even if they had been aware of his im­pend­ing de­par­ture for some time.

Emery will now need to get more of a con­sis­tent tune out of Me­sut Ozil.

All in all, it prom­ises to be an in­ter­est­ing nine months at the Emi­rates Sta­dium in Arse­nal’s quest to re­turn to Europe’s elite — and the ques­tion of whether this cur­rent squad be­longs there or not will cer­tainly be an­swered dur­ing that time.


Af­ter a rest­less off-sea­son, Arse­nal spent 72 mil­lion pounds on Lille winger Ni­co­las Pepe in a record trans­fer fee for the Lon­don club.

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