"I will leave the club with good players, good youth and a strong financial position. I will do that, believe me. The guy who comes in after me will be in a strong position to deliver something exceptional."
- Arsene Wenger
What lays above is one of Wenger’s goals that he was hell-bent on upholding before he finally abdicated from his long reign at Arsenal. His other life-long goal was to make Arsenal Champions League winners, but that dream never quite came to be true. That one night in Paris, 2006 is a date that should still make him shudder even under the warmth of the sun.
As Wenger stood in the middle of the pitch, in the stadium that he built, in the final home game of his Arsenal career, he mourned a farewell to the club. He left behind him a club in good health for the new manager that will eventually step into his big shoes left by the door.
That manager would come to be Unai Emery, the first man to step on the moon of the Arsenal touchline as Gunners boss for 22 years. His English upon arrival was limited, but his ambition was steadfast.
Now, after eight games into this young Premier League season, we can begin to piece together how the new man at the helm is doing. His baptism of fire was magma level with his first two games of his adventure coming against the current champions, Manchester City and former champions Chelsea. Both games ended in defeats, yet there was still an air of calmness, with a pinch of optimism surrounding the club. The panic mode that you’d expect to come like an air strike didn’t come.
Since those back-to-back defeats, Arsenal have yet to taste defeat. Instead, they have now won nine successive games across all competitions and find themselves fourth in the league. Though to add a coat of context to the situation, Arsenal have ridden their luck on some occasions against some sides that you’d expect a win against; a rhetoric that was used last season, but still, the club found themselves losing to said teams.
Nevertheless, the Spaniard has slowly given rise to a silent revolution at Arsenal, as he gradually paints over the walls left of his predecessor, respectively of course. Emery is a man of tradition, and he dare not besmirch the sanctuary that Wenger built, though, Emery has plans of his own on the direction he wants to push the club towards.
Players have spoken up about their new manager’s impact on the club: physically, psychologically, as well as tactically. All departments that often Wenger was criticised for. The new changes are palpable. The way the side builds out from the goalkeeper that was once too scared to watch at the start of this season has matured into a passage of play that won’t haunt your dreams.
The tactical changes after halftime are also something that wasn’t seen in the Wenger age. Where Wenger, a firm believer in letting the players figure out how to become unstuck, Emery will make the adjustments at halftime himself. Before Sunday’s game against Fulham, 10 of Arsenal’s 14 league goals had come in the second half of matches.
Emery hasn’t installed a host of changes, although it may seem as so as with his small doses of change serving as an antithesis to the Wenger regime. With nine successive wins, people will point towards the calibre of sides Arsenal have played, but you cannot take away from the feel-good factor at the club right now.
The flowing confidence is showing in their game, no more personified by Arsenal’s third goal in their 5-1 trouncing of Fulham. Aaron Ramsey was subbed on and 30 seconds later scored a goal that will be a leading candidate for goal of the season. It was a goal that belonged in the Wenger era - and you wouldn’t be so mad to double-check who was standing on the Arsenal touchline – yet, we can no longer name it ‘Wengerball’ anymore.
Wenger loved football for all its aesthetics capabilities it had to offer and he wanted to share that beauty with the fans that streamed into the Emirates Stadium, his theatre of entertainment. It was his obsession to entertain. Emery also has an obsession, but his obsession is 'preparedness'.
A former player of Emery’s, Joaquin – now playing at Real Betis – recounts the time with his obsessive former manager at Valencia: “He put on so many videos I ran out of popcorn”.
Emery’s preparations for each game are laden with meticulousness, tailored differently for each opponent. His tool of reference is the use of video analysis, combing through clip after clip, finding that edge, how little it may seem.
Arsenal are still a team in transition and are quietly going about their business. They’ll face much stiffer obstacles in the near future, but everyone seems quietly optimistic.
Traces of ‘Wengerism’ still lingers in this team, though, we shouldn’t look at this new Arsenal through the same lens of the previous 22 years.