Graham Ruthven: Is Unai Emery just Arsene Wenger in disguise?

Unai Emery had a somewhat rosy start to life at Arsenal, but it seems the nasty habits of the Arsene Wenger era are starting to creep back in…


There are times at which Unai Emery struggles for words. This is largely down to the Spaniard’s still loose grasp of the English language.

Of course, getting to grips with a new language in the space of a few months was always going to be difficult, and he puts all of us to shame who are too lazy or ignorant to learn a new vocabulary, but his message, at points, is a garbled one.

However, having watched Liverpool dismantle Arsenal at Anfield Emery didn’t need a particularly strong command of the English language to get his point across.

Body language and a general air of exasperation was sufficient. The Gunners boss had spent much of the match slumped in his seat.

By the time he got to the press conference, Emery had allowed dismay to simmer into frustration, verging on anger.

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It’s not so long ago that Arsene Wenger went through similar emotions following a trip to Merseyside. Indeed, only five years separate Arsenal from their last 5-1 thumping at the hands of a title-chasing Liverpool side.

Back then, it was Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge, rather than Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino, who did the damage, but for Gooners the feeling of humiliation suffered at Anfield was a familiar one.

In fact, much of what has happened to Arsenal over the past few weeks has felt familiar.

From the late collapse to Southampton, to the North London derby defeat to Spurs in the Carabao Cup to the insipid away draw to Brighton on Boxing Day, the sense of underachievement that festered under Wenger has returned.

Earlier in the season it seemed that Emery was untangling all that had been left before him.

The Gunners embarked on an 11-game winning streak that even had some questioning whether they could challenge for the title. More poignantly, Arsenal had their identity back as Emery turned them into a dynamic, at times exhilarating, attacking unit.

Over time, though, that dynamism has dulled and now Arsenal have won just one of their last five matches in all competitions. With defeat to Liverpool, Emery’s side are now entangled with a resurgent Manchester United side who could feasibly leave the Gunners back where they finished at the end of last season – sixth place.

In fact, Arsenal are just a single point better off than they were at the same stage last season.

Does that really constitute the great progress many were claiming Emery had made just a few weeks ago? Would Arsenal fans really take finishing sixth for a second successive season? Because that is an increasingly feasible scenario that could play out.

Many of the issues Wenger toiled with in the latter years of tenures have dogged Emery too.

Defensively, for instance, Arsenal remain extremely vulnerable. Look at the way Liverpool were gifted at least two of their five goals.

Then there’s a soft mentality which has seen the Gunners crumble in recent weeks, dropping points from winning or drawing positions against Man Utd, Southampton, Brighton and Liverpool.

The momentous 4-2 derby win over Spurs at the start of December was something of a false dawn for Arsenal.

It was a glorious demonstration of what Emery-ism can be, of what it can do for the Gunners. And yet it was only a fleeting glimpse, with Wenger-ism still engrained in the very fabric of Arsenal.

Emery is just as principled as Wenger, and that could prove to be a problem.

The Spaniard might be more contemporary in some of his methods and ideas, but there are parallels to be drawn between his team and the one that frustrated and exasperated so many at the Emirates for years. From the manner of performance to the dismay of Emery in front of the press afterwards, Saturday’s defeat to Liverpool was very Wenger-esque.

Emery, it turns out, has still to put his true mark on Arsenal.

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