As the dust settles on a surprisingly turbulent week in north London Arsenal fans are beginning to appreciate the pragmatism of appointing Unai Emery over the more popular Mikel Arteta. After 10 years of monotone stability under Arsene Wenger leaping into the unknown with Arteta was an exhilarating thought, and so a U-turn at the eleventh hour has left a feeling of deflation among fans and neutrals alike, providing a somewhat muted reception for the new boss. But the sense of disappointment has begun to lift as supporters pour over Unai's managerial record with the same cold rationale exhibited by the Arsenal board; Emery is evidently qualified for the job.
Both Lorca and Almeria were promoted to historic heights under the Spaniard's guidance, playing their virgin campaigns in the second tier and La Liga respectively. Both survived their debut seasons; Almeria finished 8th. Valencia promptly appointed Emery and the club finished third in three consecutive seasons despite frequently losing star players such as David Silva, Juan Mata, and David Villa. After a brief and unsuccessful spell at Spartak Moscow he won three consecutive Europa League titles with Sevilla before moving to Paris for arguably one of the most confounding jobs in world football.
Paris Saint-Germain's Qatari ownership is a fable for the destructive influence of bloodthirsty capitalism in football, for championing individualism in a sport built on collective self-sacrifice. By pandering to the whims of Neymar and by emphatically outspending their French rivals PSG have made victory in the Champions League virtually impossible. Emery didn't stand much of a chance, not least because his own methods jarred horribly with those of the Parisians.
In this respect Arsenal fans should not be disheartened by Emery's perceived failures in France but rather encouraged by them. The 46-year-old is fastidious, intense, and tactically astute, demanding respect for the team ethic and unwilling to yield to outside pressure; that Neymar clashed with Emery is proof he is the right person to whip Arsenal into shape.
Wenger's primary flaw during the second half of his tenure was adopting a laissez-faire attitude towards the psychological and emotional aspects of the dressing room. The Gunners became infamously fickle, a spineless collective for one with so much individual talent and serial bottlers whenever travelling away from the comfort and safety of the Emirates. This fragility comes from neglect. Emery's demanding approach should end this aimlessness.
Tactical preparation under Wenger was also limited in comparison to Arsenal's Premier League rivals, focusing on his own team rather than exploiting opposition weaknesses: the polar opposite of Emery. The Spaniard gives long tactical lectures to his players to prepare for upcoming fixtures, again creating a togetherness – a sense of purpose – that Arsenal have been craving for years.
Wenger's model of elegant, expansive possession football is another feature likely to fade under Emery – known for his quick counter-attacking style - and understandably this is what worries Arsenal fans the most. It shouldn't. There is a tendency in modern analysis to posit 'possession' and 'counter-attacking' as opposites, but this binary interpretation is long outdated. Emery's approach is closer to the counter-pressing method of Jurgen Klopp than the compress-and-spring defensive football of Diego Simeone, for example.
It is possible to dominate possession, to interchange fluidly, while also exploiting counter-attacking opportunities via a high press. It is in fact the most up-to-date version of Wenger's possession model, it's just the Frenchman hadn't moved with the times, instead continuing with a wide-open formation and non-confrontational defensive attitude. Arsenal will hassle their opponents, closing down all over the pitch and breaking forward with speed; that is clearly something to get excited about.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan flourished under a similar tactical plan at Borussia Dortmund, while high-energy and agile players like Alex Iwobi, Aaron Ramsey, and Alexandre Lacazette will also benefit from Emery's appointment. The Gunners will need a new athletic defensive midfielder – Wilfried Ndidi or Abdoulaye Doucoure would fit in well – and a couple of centre-backs to implement Unai's system, but there is already a decent spine at the Emirates.
The PSG debacle did not fairly reflect Emery's talents. Arsenal have appointed a hard-working young coach with a glittering CV; he is the perfect appointment to modernise the club.