Arsenal season review: an encouraging start without Arsene Wenger

Unai Emery of Arsenal in action during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Arsenal and Valencia CF at the Emirates Stadium in London, UK - 2nd May 2019
Unai Emery of Arsenal in action during the UEFA Europa League semi final first leg match between Arsenal and Valencia CF at the Emirates Stadium in London, UK – 2nd May 2019

Words and  pictures by Holly Allison


Following in ex-Arsenal legendary manager Arsene Wenger’s footsteps meant that the first year of Unai Emery’s tenure as Arsenal boss was always going to be one of the hardest seasons he would every experience as a football manager. Wenger’s management ultimately turned the fanbase toxic, and making fans happy again is not an easy task. Emery needed to make an immediate impact,  which he has achieved to a certain extent.

Emery’s management of the side has seen him drag the team to new heights this season, with the Gunners being seven points better off and up a position in the League standings, compared to the previous season under Arsene Wenger. While this isn’t a massive increase, it gives Arsenal fans hope.

“There was been an improvement of sorts given that its only Unai’s first season and he has got the strikers firing once the defence is shored up then the points will get better and maybe more cups,” says Arsenal fan Frankie Phoenix, 39.

*Based on Arsene Wenger’s last season at Arsenal, which consisted of 59 games during the 2017/18 season and Unai Emery’s first season at Arsenal, which consisted of 57 before the Europa League final in the 2018/19 season. Excluding the FA Community Shield and pre-season friendlies.

The Spaniard didn’t have the easiest start to the season, having the daunting task to host the champions Manchester City and an away trip to Chelsea. No one expected him to pick up any points – and he didn’t, losing 2-0 to Manchester city and 3-2 defeat to Chelsea. Despite these two defeats at the start of the season it proved to be a blip, as the Gunners went on a 23 unbeaten run, eventually losing away at Southampton. This run of fixtures included tough home games against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool, as well as away to Manchester United.

The clearest part of Unai Emery’s management style is the influence on his players. When you look at Mesut Ozil he is no longer comfortable in his role. He has to be consistently improving his game and he needs to be doing more and more in every game he plays. Otherwise, the manager won’t have a problem to drop him.

Under Arsene Wenger he knew his position in the side was safe, and wouldn’t need to worry about being dropped. This has seen him improve after initially struggling with game time. He was able to force his way back into the managers plans after some impressive performances against Bournemouth and FC BATE Borisov. His form has seen the teams defensive work increase – when the German is involved in the team they concede 1.07 goals per game, whereas when fellow playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan is picked they concede 1.46 goals.

Holly Allison Photography: Some Agency Work &emdash; Arsenal v FC BATE Borisov, UEFA Europa League round of 32 second leg, Football, Emirates Stadium, London, UK - 21st February 2019

Mesut Ozil of Arsenal in action during the UEFA Europa League round of 32-second leg match between Arsenal and FC BATE Borisov at Emirates Stadium in London, UK – 21st February 2019

But some of the biggest problems facing the Gunners from last season under Arsene Wenger still linger this season, most notably the club’s away form, as it only gained 25 points in away games out of a possible 57 points available. This includes 8 away defeats, and 10 in all competitions, the worst coming in the form of a 5-1 defeat to Liverpool.

While technically Arsenal have not achieved any more than they did last season, their League performance has seen a much needed improvement.  Earning more points and winning more games and losing less games than the previous season.

The summer transfer window will give Emery an opportunity to find the reinforcements he requires. The first priority will be a replacement for Petr Cech, as the Club will be lacking a backup goalkeeper once he has retired.

Holly Allison Photography: Some Agency Work &emdash; Arsenal v Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli, UEFA Europa League quater final first leg, Football, Emirates Stadium, London, UK - 11th April 2019

Petr Cech of Arsenal celebrates after during the UEFA Europa League quarter final first leg match between Arsenal and Societa Sportiva Calcio Napoli at the Emirates Stadium in London, UK – 11th April 2019

The Club may also look to invest in some players who can play as a winger. Currently the only out and out winger is Alex Iwobi, who is unimpressive at best. Regularly the Club have played attacking midfielders Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil, and striker at Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the wing, which has seen their performance struggle. An ideal replacement for the side would be Crystal Palace winger Wilfried Zaha, following his announcement that he wishes to leave Palace to play Champions League football.

Holly Allison Photography: Some Agency Work &emdash; Crystal Palace v Wolverhampton Wanderers FC, Premier League, Foo

Wilfried Zaha of Crystal Palace in action during the Premier League match between Crystal Palace and Wolverhampton Wanderers FC at Selhurst Park in London, UK – 6th October 2018

Unai will need to take this summer to address the defensive crisis at the Club. The struggles of Shkodran Mustafi have made many Arsenal fans feeling like they are playing with just 10 men when he is on the pitch, due to the defensive errors he makes. The most recent example was in a 3-2 defeat to Crystal Palace, where he made a mistake which allowed Wilfried Zaha to score and appeared to blame Bernd Leno for this.

Emery will be keen to stamp out these mistakes in this player but not at the expense of the team’s performance. A new centre back is a must. Sports photographer, Carlton Myrie, 45, says: “What Arsenal need is a solid defender such as Virgil van Dijk, who has cemented his place as one of the best players in the Premier League. It will be a struggle to find a player of his calibre, but it is possible.”

Holly Allison Photography: Some Agency Work &emdash; Arsenal v Brentford, Carabao Cup Third Round, Football, Emirates
Shkodran Mustafi of Arsenal attempts and fails to get the ball off Brentford’s Ollie Watkins during the Carabao Cup third round match between Arsenal and Brentford at Emirates Stadium in London, UK – 26th September 2018

A massive boost for the club is the possibility of Champions League football for the 2019/20 season. Arsenal are due to face London rivals Chelsea in the UEFA Europa League Final in Baku in Azerbaijan on the 29thMay. The final is a great opportunity for the club to not only win some silverware, but also to take the Gunners back to the Champions League, where they have not participated in since the 2016/17 season.

Arsenal, however, will be without Henrikh Mkhitaryan due to the ongoing tension between Azerbaijan and Armenia. The playmaker has featured prominently for the side in the Europa League this season. While not the most important player to this side, he has helped Arsenal to their first European final in over 10 years. His loss to the side will be felt both during the game and in the post-match celebrations if they win.

Like many Arsenal fans, Lucy Roe, 18 an Arsenal-supporting waitress, believes her club should boycott the final. “I think it is disgusting that UEFA have picked a country that’s not safe for all players. I have waited years to see Arsenal make it to European Final, but at this rate I would rather the club boycott the final as a form of protest. But I know we won’t due to the potential of earning Champions League football next year.”

Holly Allison Photography: Some Agency Work &emdash; Arsenal v Stade Rennais F.C, UEFA Europa League Round of 16 second leg, Football, Emirates Stadium, London, UK - 14th March 2019

Henrikh Mkhitaryan of Arsenal and Mbaye Niang of Stade Rennais F.C in action during the UEFA Europa League round of 16 second leg match between Arsenal and Stade Rennais F.C at the Emirates Stadium in London, UK – 14th March 2019

This season has not been the season Arsenal fans expected. Many would have assumed the moment Arsene Wenger left the club there was going to be a massive change. This was never going to be the case. The poor ending to the season has coloured the view fans may have on the season, but one Arsenal fan thinks this as good as it was going to get. “Finishing in the position we did is probably as good as anyone thought he could do,” says Arsenal fan James Howard, 22.

Unai Emery needs another three transfer windows in order to get his blueprint fully implemented. But the changes that have been made so far give fans hope to what might come of Arsenal in the future: better transactions in the transfer windows, improved performances, reaching an European final all give fans hope that we will see this club back to the top, where they belong.

You can watch all of the Arsenal’s goals below.

Would you consider Unai Emery’s first season at Arsenal to be a success?

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