There were only so many ‘Good ebenings’ we could all take. And, long before the eventual end of Unai Emery’s tenure as Arsenal’s head coach, the evenings at the Emirates were as far from ‘good’ as they’d ever been.
Emery had been appointed as Arsène Wenger’s successor and was tasked with overseeing the club’s transition away from the slow stagnation that had unravelled towards the end of the Frenchman’s 20-year career.
The club’s executives, then led by Ivan Gazidis, decided the former Valencia, Sevilla and PSG boss was their man. His extensive experience edged Mikel Arteta out of the running and Emery was all set to give Arsenal’s managerial hot seat a proper shot.
His reign started well enough. 11 wins on the trot, 22 games unbeaten, and it looked as if Emery was doing exactly what was expected. Fast forward to May 2019, and the mood was slightly different.
Missing out on a top four finish by a single point having been in the driving seat? Check! On the end of an embarrassing Europa League thrashing in Baku? Check! Missing out on Champions League qualification entirely? Oh yes.
Their decision to stick with Emery and inspire supporters’ excitement with a drastic shake up of the squad was, in hindsight, a disaster. The writing was on the wall for Emery’s Arsenal future, and little did anyone anticipate that it would unravel in such spectacularly rotten fashion.
The summer preceding the 2019/20 campaign offered glimmering hope of redemption. Nicolas Pepe became the club’s record signing. Kieran Tierney joined, and deals were done for David Luiz, Dani Ceballos, Gabriel Martinelli and William Saliba. It appeared the club had followed through with their prerogative of adopting an “aggressive” transfer policy.
What appeared an impressive shake up of the squad was a cause for renewed optimism. A couple of positive results had supporters purring. Finally, the club had delivered on their promises, and ensured the squad was strong enough to compete. Or so they thought.
It wasn’t long before the cracks begun to re-emerge. Initially, it was a case of ‘well, the result is more important than the performance’ – Arsenal’s wholly unconvincing performances were still yielding the required results. But with issues already cropping up, it was only a matter of time.
A string of dreadfully disappointing results between October and November saw Emery’s Arsenal plummet catastrophically. And after a disgraceful showing in the 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt at the end of November, the Spaniard was finally put out of his misery.
A club statement cited the decision was “taken due to results and performances not being at the level required”. Well, they weren’t wrong there. The question is – why did they wait the best part of a month to part company with Emery?
The 48-year-old was utterly out of his depth, the players had evidently lost all and any faith they previously had in their manager. Why, oh why was the deteriorating situation allowed to fester on until it became almost unsalvageable?
The team were without a win in seven across all competitions, and we’d seen some seriously concerning performances devoid of any heart or identity. And it wasn’t just the toxicity of the Emirates that had reached a breaking point.
As was reported by The Athletic, in the aftermath of what turned out as Emery’s final game in charge, it was understood it was more a question of when, not if, the club would sack the Spaniard. Amidst the ever-growing discontent among players, staff and fans alike, the horror show against Frankfurt proved the final straw.
The levels of morale were now so low the club had no choice but to finally do what they should have done long before. Emery’s 18 months in charge were up, and Arsenal found themselves in a perilous predicament.
Yes, it was because of the results. The absence of Champions League football was a serious cause for concern. After all, Emery was appointed on the premise of his perceived ability to lead Arsenal back into Europe’s elite competition, be it by a top four finish or Europa League success.
The performances had become insipid, uninspiring, and relentlessly soul-destructing. Soon, Emery’s Arsenal were shattering the records, and not in a good way. It was the club’s worst run of form since 1992. They hadn’t won a competitive fixture in almost two months. But while the dreadful results eventually proved the tipping point, it was far more than that.
The environment that ensued as a consequence left the club in complete and utter disarray. If the last stretch of Wenger’s 20-year reign provided its fair share of conflict, disappointment and crisis, then the fallout that emerged as Emery edged towards the exit door was arguably worse.
And yet, it wasn’t entirely his fault. It was clear that the situation had reached a point where he was no longer capable of doing his job. And given his poor communication skills, the fans were less able to sympathise with what he, as a manager, was tasked with. The players eventually followed suit, by which point the executives’ inexcusable lack of action resulted in an irreconcilable situation.
It was clear Emery was a dead man walking for some time. Even when the team won, they did so in remarkably unconvincing, anxiety-inducing fashion. It became clear that the Spaniard no longer had the tools to salvage Arsenal’s slowly sinking ship.
Those above allowed him to remain at the helm beyond his expiry date, and the disastrous consequences of his poorly managed exit held monumental consequences for the players, the club’s profile, and the current season.
Poor Freddie Ljungberg was then thrown into the deep end for a couple of weeks. Eventually, Arteta was appointed Emery’s full-time successor. His first business to attend to? Cleaning up the mess left behind by his predecessor. For who? His new employers, who had facilitated it.