In praise of Unai Emery after 50 matches in charge at Arsenal

Legacies are not decided on a sample of just 50 games but Unai Emery’s record as Arsenal manager in that time has been seriously impressive.

Despite our wobbles on the road and a few cup stutters here and there, the Spaniard, in his first season with the club, has managed 32 wins, with seven draws and 11 defeats.

That tally of wins puts him top of the all-time list, four wins ahead of George Allison and nine ahead of Arsene Wenger.

It’s been a deceptively, almost unexpectedly, good start to Emery’s time at the club and a decent platform from which to build.

The best part about his record has been the ‘under-the-radar’ nature of it. Going in to Thursday night’s match at Napoli, I would have put Emery’s start down as solid and improving. It appears I, and many others, have done him a disservice. He’s a record breaker.

We’ve won nothing yet, and these are still early days, but you have to appreciate what Emery has managed to do in such a short space of time – something no other Arsenal manager has achieved at the dawn of their careers with the club.

If Emery can get one or both of his key objectives over the line this season – a top four place and Europa League success – you have to mark it down as an excellent campaign. Given the state of the squad and the epoch-shift after Arsene Wenger’s departure, Emery will have worked a near miracle with the tools at his disposal.

If he fails in both of his objectives, all the hard work done to date will pale into insignificance, but it will still have been a first season of progress – only the most churlish would deny that.

Emery brought with him a reputation as an excellent coach and that has been borne out with the changes he has introduced into a squad that was oft accused of being listless on the pitch, without direction, and tactically naïve.

We are a much different proposition now, and even the work-shy Mesut Ozil is coming round to the ideas being introduced by Emery (an achievement in and of it itself).

Encouragingly, there is still much more to be wrought from this side and improvements that can be made in playing personnel that could take us up another level. I have my doubts that we will ever be able to match the likes of Manchester City, given their spending and pulling power, but we can achieve great things indeed living within our means and with the right coach to maximise what we have.

There will always be difficult runs and bad patches for teams, that’s the nature of football and, indeed, competitive sport, but, when taken as a whole, the story under Emery has been, and I hope will continue to be, one of growing success.

For me, the high point of those first 50 games was the stunning, near euphoric 4-2 win at the Emirates over Tottenham. A triumph of passion and desire in which the fans really did play a key part.

The low point for me was the defeat at Stamford Bridge in the second match of Emery’s reign. We were all desperate for Emery to do well and for the cobwebs of the past to be blown away so it was a worrying time to see us slump to consecutive defeats so early in the season.

As it transpires, I need not have worried but that was as difficult a start as I can remember to a season and all credit to Emery for emerging the better for it.

It’s not often you find yourself writing a piece in praise of a manager but sometimes you have to acknowledge something for what it is. The numbers speak for themselves and if Emery’s first 50 games prove to be a barometer for the rest of his reign, we are in for plenty of success in the seasons to come.

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