We are all aware of what’s happening at Arsenal right now. Four consecutive games in which the team has surrendered points from a winning position, six points out of the goal of fourth place (or better) with a huge game against...checks calendar...third-placed, and winners of four of their last five, Leicester City this weekend. Things are going great! Except in all the ways that they are not going great, which is a lot of ways.
I’m not here to talk about firing Unai Emery - I think most people are on board that train at this point, or at least are in the waiting room preparing to board. I’m here to talk about the costs of not firing Unai Emery.
This past summer, the club sent Emery a statement of intent, in the form of a vastly more productive transfer season than any of us really expected them to have. Nicolas Pepe set a club transfer record, Kieran Tierney should be a solid/really good pickup, and they even got one for the future in William Saliba. With that, of course, came expectation. That expectation was spelled out to Emery in a conversation with Raul Sanllehi about this season, in which Sanllehi set the Champions League as a goal and told Emery “we just missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last year, but this year with a strong squad, we expect you to do that.”
It can be intuited from that statement that any decision on retaining Emery will not be made until Arsenal’s European path for next year is confirmed. That path, of course, has three forks: Champions League, Europa League, or no European competition at all. If we take Arsenal at their word, then, we should expect Emery to be at Arsenal until a) their Europa League participation is complete this season or b) the end of the Premier League season (in which they must finish fourth or better), whichever comes later.
The wild card here, of course, is how Arsenal are performing in between (current date) and (date on which CL status for next year is determined). And as we’ve all seen, as of now, that’s not going super well.
I should caveat the rest of this piece with “if Arsenal lose at Leicester, it feels like all bets are off”, but as of today at least, let’s assume Emery is, in fact, here for the rest of the season. What does that mean for Arsenal? We know what that’s costing the club in the table right now, and we’re also starting to get a sense for what it looks like off the pitch as well.
There have been numerous reports of players mocking Emery on the training ground, which speaks to a fundamental lack of respect for the boss. There have been reports that Emery’s, shall we say, intensive video preparation and review doesn’t really work for a lot of players. Worryingly, we’re now starting to see things like this as well:
There’s obviously no way of knowing why Torreira “isn’t living a good moment”. This article indicates it’s all playing related, but it’s also just one tiny window into his thoughts, so I can’t fully blame this one on the Emery situation. He could be homesick, he could miss living in Italy, and when that’s combined with his lesser-than-expected role that might make him less inclined to be happy.
but then there’s also this:
That one, I can definitely attribute to Emery and the direction of the club right now. Those two are ambitious, talented players, who will want to be involved in the Champions League more often than not; if Arsenal aren’t in that competition again next year, it’s easy to see them not wanting to stay. The same can be said for Mesut Özil - his travails with Emery are well documented, and I could see him wanting to go, as well.
Separate from player ambition, there’s also the problem of recouping fees. Even if Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi, to name two examples, were to go, there’s no way Arsenal will recoup what they paid for the two (€35M and €20M, respectively). Without Champions League money, that becomes a much bigger problem, because Arsenal want to buy Champions League-level players, and, while I’m no economist, I think I can say that without a lot of money, that’s not going to be possible.
While a certain amount of this entropy is inevitable no matter what a team’s situation, the more money that a club has, the more insulated they are from it. Retaining Emery dramatically increases the risk of that entropy accelerating, which has consequences not just this season but in the next several seasons as well. While Arsenal’s desire to give Emery a season after last summer to prove his worth is laudable from an ethics/integrity perspective, by the time May rolls around, it may be too late to salvage the next season or two, at least from a playing in Europe perspective.
Oh hey look, this WAS about firing Emery, after all!