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Have Arsenal moved on from Wenger’s shadow

Le Professeur Wenger was one of the league’s most iconic coaches bringing about a change in Arsenal’s fortunes, both on and off the field.

Sourav Ghosh
Last updated: 24.03.2019
Have Arsenal moved on from Wenger’s shadow | Sports Social Blog

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#WengerOut #InWengerWeTrust #WengerOut #InWengerWeTrust #WengerOut #InWengerWeTrust, you get the pattern and gist. The last few years of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reign were nothing short of a soap opera. Le Professeur was one of the league’s most iconic coaches bringing about a change in Arsenal’s fortunes, both on and off field. He brought in a mesmerizing style of play that involved slick passing, changed the diet of the players, brought in relatively unknown players, nurtured them into world beaters and sold them for profit. His management allowed the club to move from Highbury to the Emirates on a shoestring budget, all the while keeping pace with the top dogs of the league and being a regular feature in Europe.

However, things did turn sour during the last few years when the trophies dried up. The Premier League drought was on for more than a decade, a sparse few FA Cups followed and maybe that’s what kept Wenger at the helm. The 2014 win gave Wenger a new lease and four more years followed. The club slipped out of Champions League places, the league title looked like a distant dream and they couldn’t go toe-to-toe with the other heavyweights of the league in terms of transfers and finances. Finally, Arsenal endured a trophy less season while finishing a lowly 6th.


Something had to give and it did. Wenger announced his departure in April, thereby ending his 22 year iconic reign as Gunners’ boss.

Enter Unai Emery.

The Basque born coach arrived with a decent pedigree, his notable achievement being three consecutive UEFA Europa League titles with Sevilla from 2014 to 2016. His 2 year PSG stint wasn’t exactly something to uphold with the usual domestic honors. Instead of trudging around on this more and veering away from the point of the article, it’s best I get straight to the nub of the matter. We are here to see whether Arsenal, in the few months, have managed to wade off the Arsene Wenger aura that was synonymous with the club. There are certain parameters I have considered to best judge Arsenal’s current state and whether they have managed to come out of Wenger’s shadow.

Style of play -

Wenger was known for his fast, slick, one-two touch passing and possession-based football. He relied a lot on his central players to keep the ball and move it fast with short and quick passes.

Things have been quite different under Emery. He has reverted to the classic 4-2-3-1 from Wenger’s last season’s 3-4-2-1. This has resulted in them playing a fairly less number of passes per game i.e., 619/game last year and 539/game this year. They have looked defensively solid whenever their first choice defenders have played but they have really struggled with injuries this season (Koscielny, Holding, Sokratis, etc.) and have had to play others in their place. This has no doubt damaged their defensive stats for the season but they do look a better defensive unit this season.

His usage of fullbacks has been praiseworthy, with the likes of Maitland-Niles, Bellerin, Kolasinac and Lichtsteiner providing good performances. The defensive solidity from the double pivot of Torreira and Xhaka, with Guendouzi peppered in between sometimes, has allowed the fullbacks to play their natural attacking game.

Handling the forward line has been a challenge but the way Emery has accommodated both Lacazette and Aubameyang, needs to be mentioned. Both the forwards have worked in tandem while switching roles every now and then.

Let’s face it! It’s not as if Arsenal have become a better attacking unit but what they have become is more clinical. This season they have taken lesser shots/game (12.2 compared to 15.6) but they have scored more goals/game than last year (2.1 compared to 1.95).

Emery has shown that he is pretty tactically flexible with an occasional switch to 3 at the back for certain matches. He has used the 4-2-3-1 the most, followed by 3-4-2-1 and 3-4-3. His substitutions in games have also not been too shabby either. Recall the introduction of Ramsey and Lacazette in the 4-2 win over Spurs in December and that of Mkhitaryan in the 1-1 draw against Wolves.

Transfers -

Arsene Wenger was never the one to splurge in the transfer market but in his last 2 seasons, he splashed quite a bit of cash. This included the purchases of Xhaka, Mustafi, Lacazette, Aubameyang, etc. His reluctance to go for experienced defenders was biting the club with Koscielny spending more days in the treatment room than on the pitch. Petr Cech was no longer the elite keeper he once was at Chelsea, yet Wenger persisted with him. The Frenchman always had the tendency to pick out relatively unknown youngsters (mostly from France) and mold them into superstars.

When Emery came in, he addressed the areas of the squad that needed fixing. Bernd Leno was brought in to facilitate playing out from the back. Sokratis and Lichtsteiner have experienced heads in defence. Lucas Torreira’s purchase was greeted with much fanfare given how the team was crying out for a hard tackling ball winner since the days of Patrick Vieira. Lastly, there was Matteo Guendouzi, who turned out to be quite the nifty investment.

All of the above players have played their part in improving the team. Yes, Aaron Ramsey is tipped to leave at the end of the season but that’s more due to the boardroom issues. This is a contrast from the Wenger days when the best players used to leave for their rivals (Nasri, Van Persie, Ashley Cole, etc.).

Youth Prospects -

Another recurring theme from the Wenger days was encouraging youth. As mentioned before, Wenger had the uncanny ability to spot talent and bring them to the club for absolute peanuts. Vieira, Fabregas, Van Persie, Alex Song and Kolo Toure were all plucked from obscurity and thrust into the team. They grew under Wenger’s tutelage and later departed for greener pastures. He gave debuts to players like Jack Wilshere and Wojciech Szczesny. The current crop of players also includes 2 players that were pushed into the team under Wenger, i.e. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerin. Wenger’s vision for the future and trust in youth was unparalleled.

Can we say the same of Emery? I think we can.

Guendouzi, Iwobi and Maitland-Niles have become vital 1st team players and have enjoyed a good run in the side. Players like Holding and Bellerin were also getting good amount of minutes before injury curtailed that. Lastly academy players like Emil Smith-Rowe, Joe Willock, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah have made into the team a few times. Clearly the tradition of encouraging youth has continued.

Success and Progress -

In no way can one doubt the fact that Wenger was a success at Arsenal. He won 3 Premier League titles, a massive haul of FA Cups and Community Shields at the club. But gradually the major trophies began to dwindle and all that remained domestic trophies. All the progress made by the club in those years, not only stagnated but kind of regressed. The club were regularly humiliated in the Champions League with rolled to them not even making it to the competition as a whole. Their league form was good till a certain point every year but from there on they imploded.

So, how has Emery fared in that respect? Much better!

With 30 games of the league done, Arsenal are 12 points better off (60pts compared to 48pts) and 2 places higher (4th compared to 6th) than last season! They have also fared good in the Europa League much like last season. Yeah, there were 2 early exits in the FA Cup and EFL Cup but with this squad, you really can’t expect better. Arsenal look on their way to a top 4 finish this year with Spurs, Manchester United and Chelsea struggling for consistency. They also had a 22 game unbeaten run from mid-August to mid-December.

A Europa League win looks to be on the horizon but without significant investment, the bigger trophies are unlikely to follow.

Have Arsenal really moved on from Wenger’s shadow?

Perhaps a question that doesn’t really have a definite answer, at least at this point. Actually, it’ll be criminal to say that the aura of Arsene Wenger has worn off the club. Because it isn’t possible. A 22 year old love-hate affair with something just doesn’t get forgotten that easily. Wenger’s philosophies are still a core part of the club.

Unai Emery hasn’t tried to shun away from those but has added his own uniqueness to it. He is reaping a few of the fruits Wenger sowed in his days and with some more care and direction from the higher-ups, the clubs should be well primed to blossom past Arsene Wenger’s shadow and reach greater heights.

Video: Would you rather Unai Emery or Arsene Wenger as Manager?

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