Emery pipped Arteta to the post to become the next Arsenal manager. Some fans might be disappointed because Allegri, Luis Enrique, and Ancelotti were on the shortlist of candidates. But in hindsight the board’s decision makes sense. Wenger’s replacement could only be either a seasoned manager accepting that the club could not contend for the Premier League title or an inexperienced manager having everything to prove and willing to work with a tight transfer budget.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com
There’s no way that Allegri, Luis Enrique and Ancelotti could have taken the job for the simple reason that they are used to winning league titles and going deep in the Champions League. If you look at Arsenal’s performances in the past few years and the massive rebuilding job required, those managers would have needed to lower their ambitions. Emery has a more modest profile than Allegri, Luis Enrique and Ancelotti. Before joining Paris Saint-Germain, Emery was a manager at Valencia and Sevilla, two Spanish clubs not contending for the Liga title but fighting for a Top 4 spot.
In the end, Arsenal’s financial priorities limited the hiring options. The board has clearly followed the Borussia Dortmund model since Kroenke took over in 2011. It’s not just about self-sufficiency, it’s also about optimizing the value of the club and ultimately being in a position to hand out dividends. For the record, Kroenke has never put money into the club. In fact, he even pocketed a £3 million consulting fee for two seasons before waiving it in 2016. So nobody should be surprised if the top choices on the shortlist turned down the job. Nowadays transfer funds are a key factor in attracting top managers.
Arteta would have been a bold choice. He has learned a lot under Guardiola and looked like a manager in the making while playing at Arsenal. Maybe Arteta could have succeeded in his first managerial stint like Deschamps at Monaco. Arteta had one significant advantage over Emery: he knows the club and English football. However, the board felt it was a too big gamble and opted for a safer option.
Emery has obviously more experience than Arteta. He helped Valencia qualify for the Champions League and led Sevilla to three Europa League titles. I don’t think his stint at Paris Saint-Germain will say much about his abilities because the French league is much weaker than the Premier League. Likewise, fans should not read too much into his failure at Spartak Moscow because it’s a completely different culture.
At 46, Emery is young enough to understand and use the latest analytical tools that can help managers in their work. He’s also part of that generation of coaches who enjoy micro-managing. Some Gunners might find that approach a bit intrusive. Emery wouldn’t hesitate to adjust the players’ position on the pitch every minute if that was necessary.
Micro-managing could help young players learn more quickly. Nowadays, youngsters want to know what they need to do in specific situations or even play by play instead of finding out by themselves. Emery contributed to the development of youngsters like Kimpembe, Nkunku and Lo Celso at PSG. He could have a positive impact on the careers of Bellerin, Mavropanos, Maitland-Niles, Iwobi, Nelson and Nketiah.
I definitely think that Emery is a decent choice for Arsenal. The club didn’t screw up like Manchester United did in 2013 by hiring Moyes. However, we shouldn’t go overboard. Emery is not at the same level as Klopp. The Spaniard has a poor record against the top managers. He can sometimes get his tactics wrong. For instance, PSG lost to Barcelona and Real Madrid in the Champions League because Emery failed to anticipate bad matchups: Meunier vs. Neymar and Meunier vs. Asensio. He can also falter in the big games by second-guessing himself. After thrashing Barcelona 4-0 in the first leg last year, Emery decided to change a winning team and replaced Kimpembe and Di Maria with the sluggish Thiago Silva and the ineffective Moura. The move backfired as PSG lost the second leg 6-1.
Finding value in the transfer market
Arsenal’s 2018-19 season will be shaped by what they do during the summer transfer window. Emery must quickly coordinate with Sanllehi and Mislintat to agree on the transfer targets because the window has already opened. Once the World Cup starts on June 14, the players involved in that competition won’t be available for negotiations.
Emery must be aware that the Gunners are stingy with transfers. The Gunners make more money than Liverpool and Tottenham, yet they have spent less than those two clubs in the transfer market. See the spreadsheet I’ve compiled below, using figures from transfermarkt.co.uk.
The Spanish manager had a mixed record for transfers at PSG. He signed flops like Krychowiak and Jese, and gambled on youngsters like Lo Celso and Guedes, while the club’s wealth made the difference to attract stars like Neymar, Mbappe and Draxler. I expect Mislintat to have the last word in case of disagreement.
In the next few days, Emery will have to clear the dead wood and make decisions on contracts ending this summer (Wilshere) and next year (Cech, Ospina, Monreal, Ramsey, Welbeck, Nelson). The future of the club will depend on contract extensions to Ramsey and Nelson. If Emery can’t convince them to stay, then it will be a failure worse than Oxlade-Chamberlain’s departure.
With a transfer kitty around £50 million, Emery, Mislintat and Sanllehi will have to find not just quality but also value in the transfer market. When you see clubs like Manchester City and Liverpool splashing more than £50 million on Laporte and Van Dijk, you can guess that Arsenal will only be able to sign one player if they focus on the big names.
Breaking the vicious circle
In terms of net spending, Liverpool and Tottenham have done a much better job than Arsenal in the transfer market. The Reds and Spurs have only lost £20 million per year while the Gunners have averaged a loss of £44 million every year. The main reason for that difference is that the Gunners have signed average players for the same positions in the past few years. Another reason is that Spurs have found value in the transfer market while the Reds have bought quality.
Sure, Tottenham had a few flops like Janssen, Llorente and Sissoko, but they only spent £14.4m on Alderweireld, £4.41m on Trippier, £4.50m on Dier, £12.96m on Wanyama, and £5.97m on Alli. Likewise, Liverpool made mistakes in the transfer market by signing Benteke and Markovic, but they also built the backbone of their team by spending £36.90m on Firmino, £37.80m on Salah, £37.08m on Mane, £70.92m on Van Dijk, £24.75m on Wijnaldum, £4.41m on Gomez and £8.10m on Robertson.
The comparison between Arsenal and those two clubs really hurts. The Gunners are still looking for the elusive ballwinner who will shield the defense despite spending £40.5m on Xhaka and £11.25m on Elneny. The Reds have Henderson and Can to do that job while Spurs can rely on Dier and Wanyama. At the back, the Gunners still desperately need a commanding defender despite spending £36.9m on Mustafi, £18.21m on Chambers and £13.5m on Paulista. None of them can match the level of a Van Dijk, Alderweireld or Sanchez.
The Gunners must break that vicious circle this summer and stop signing average players who won’t solve the team’s problems. Otherwise the club will be throwing money out the window again and will have to wait for the next transfer window to have a chance of fixing those recruitment mistakes.