In a shocking turn of events, it appears that Unai Emery is set to be announced as Arsenal’s new coach. Less than 24 hours after he was reportedly meeting with the Arsenal board to discuss the job opening, David Ornstein, the soothsayer regarding all matters Arsenal-related, tweeted out the news:
BREAKING: Arsenal to appoint Unai Emery as new manager. Thorough process produced 46yo Spaniard as unanimous choice. Available after leaving #PSG (1 Lg1 title, 4 cups), previously Sevilla (3 EL wins), not fluent English. Announcement + press conference likely later this week #AFC— David Ornstein (@bbcsport_david) May 21, 2018
You would be hard pressed to find nearly any pundit or outlet that foresaw this hire. For the last week, it appeared as though former Arsenal player Mikel Arteta was going to be named as the heir apparent to Arsene Wenger, pending the crossing of a few Ts and dotting of some lowercase Js. Ornstein himself had ordained it, and he is rarely wrong.
However, it is speculated that talks with Arteta broke down due once it was revealed that the board would not let a new coach have much control over transfers.
On the one hand, Arsenal may have assuaged some of the fears many had regarding hiring Arteta, namely his lack of managerial experience. Arsenal have now secured a coach with experience winning at the European level - Emery won the Europa League three times in a row while managing Sevilla. He also managed Paris Saint-Germain for the last two seasons, guiding them to the Ligue 1 title in the most recent season. Despite his success, he announced his intentions to step down from his position with the French powerhouse in April.
On the other hand, there are many questions to be asked regarding the abrupt change of heart by the Arsenal board. If Emery had made it known that he would be available since April, why wait till now to engage in talks? How does this affect Arsenal’s relationship with Arteta going forward? Will Emery’s lack of English be a major hindrance in an English league? Can he win on a rainy night in Stoke?
From an optics standpoint, this looks...not great. By all accounts, Arteta was eager to return to his former club as a manager, and the club seemed ready to announce him. To make matters worse, it appears that it was not Arteta backing out of the agreement, but Arsenal. This bait and switch makes the club and its ownership come across as unprepared at best, woefully incompetent at worst. Arsenal are at a rare crossroads in their history, as this is the first time in 22 seasons that they have found themselves in this sort of a transitional position, and it benefits them nothing to make the absolute best hire for the job, lest they end up with David Moyes 2.0. The abrupt nature of this hiring raises some flags and seems somewhat desperate on Arsenal’s part. Many pundits and Arsenal fans may be asking why other more appealing names like Tuchel, Jardim, or Nageslmann were not pursued.
From a coaching standpoint, this seems like a prudent hire. Emery has experience managing big clubs, but has also showed that he can manage a club without massive resources, as he did with much success at Sevilla. Considering he will reportedly only have £50 million to work with on the transfer market, this might be of some relief. Still, this news has been met with much more trepidation than it has excitement so far. Maybe it’s because of the 11th hour nature of it. Maybe it’s because many had already sold themselves on the idea of Arteta. Whatever it is, it has all been very unexpected.
Despite any other reservations or questions that could arise, the main one will be this: can he win games? If he can answer that question with a resounding yes, then the rest of the other concerns cease to matter.