When Unai Emery agreed to become the new Arsenal manager, he had his plate jammed full from day one.
He had to sort out an unbalanced, underperforming squad; his ability to rebuild was hampered by a lack of Champions League football and the money that brings; the club’s supporters were either disengaged entirely or were approaching Emery with caution having fooled themselves into thinking Mikel Arteta was actually going to be the club’s saviour.
Add in the task of removing the embedded arse groove from Wenger’s memory foam-stuffed office chair and you’ve got quite a job on your hands.
The fixture list added salt into the wounds too, with the Gunners opening up against all-conquering champions Manchester City before a trip to Stamford Bridge.
Sure enough, Emery’s Emirates career got off to a predictably poor start with defeats in both games. What a nice tribute to the man he was replacing, eh?
But, since then things have got better. Much, much better.
Under the Spaniard’s guidance, Arsenal now find themselves on a nine-game winning run in all competitions, something they last achieved three-and-a-half years ago. And with a relatively kind run of games still to come, there’s nothing to say that run won’t carry on.
If the winning run turns from weeks into months, Emery would rightly find himself in the running for the Premier League Manager of the Season award. Of course, there are the obvious managerial reasons as to why. There’s his tactical in-game management: of the Gunners’ current six game winning streak in the Premier League, they were drawing at half-time in all of them.
Emery’s substitutions and formation changes have consistently turned the game in their favour.
There’s the measurable improvement in results as well: Arsenal have already won only one fewer away league game than they did in the entirety of last season. If they keep it up, who knows where they’ll end up come May?
But, to win Manager of the Season requires something extra on and off the pitch. You need to show what a tangible difference you’re making to your team, your club, or even the footballing community as a whole. And Unai Emery is doing exactly that as well.
Here’s why he’s already an absolute certainty for this year’s top award…
1. He’s going to shut down Arsenal Fan TV
It has been impossible to escape football’s video Marmite in recent years. Arsenal fans are ashamed of it, rival supporters love pointing and laughing at it. But make no mistake, AFTV (they had to rebrand after even Arsenal had enough) profited massively from the #WengerOut supporter breakdowns after defeats.
Suddenly it’s all looking far rosier at the Emirates, and videos of fans praising passing out from the back lack the viral potential of a full-blown meltdown from a man who has more tattoos than brain cells. Indeed, AFTV has recently had to resort to EastEnders-style slanging matches between the channel’s main protagonists to keep any interest going. That’s when you know things are bad.
Keep up the good work, Unai, and you may just put AFTV out of its misery for good.
2. He’s single-handedly united the entire Arsenal fanbase
Arsenal’s motto may be Victoria Concordia Crescit – victory through harmony – but that didn’t stop years of infighting between the WOBs (Wenger Out Brigade), AKBs (Arsene Knows Best) and the Gooners who just wanted everyone to shut the f*ck up.
Divisions between the fanbase deepened week after week and 2018/19 would have likely gone down as a success for Emery if he did nothing but get fans on the same page by the end of the campaign.
Instead, it has taken him just three months to wind the clock back virtually 10 years and have Arsenal fully united once more. To do that so quickly and effectively at a club the size of Arsenal (we’re including their hyperactive Twitter contingent in that too) is nothing shy of footballing witchcraft.
3. His advocacy for a healthy lifestyle sets a brilliant example
One of the very first things Emery did to stamp his authority at the training ground was to ban processed, sugary fruit juices in the players’ canteen. Not much, you may think, but if those toothpaste adverts have taught us anything, it’s that they’re no good for you. Ergo, following Emery’s lead will ensure you’re on the right path to eating and living well.
That is not something you can say about a certain other impressing new manager over in West London. Foiled by English stadia’s smoking ban, Chelsea’s chain smoking boss Maurizio Sarri has had to resort to chewing cigarette butts in the dugout to get his nicotine fix.
What kind of message are we sending to youngsters if people with dirty habits like this win Premier League Manager of the Season? It’s another healthy looking tick in Unai’s column.
4. He’s brought Wengerball back to the Premier League
You must have seen Aaron Ramsey’s backheel finish – which capped off an astonishing team goal against Fulham at the weekend – at least 20 or 30 times by now, right?
It was reminiscent of the football we expected from the Gunners during the happier days of Arsene Wenger’s reign. The sort of goal all football fans appreciate, and exactly the sort free-flowing move that Man Utd fans so badly, badly miss.
To add icing on to the Wengerball cake, Emery’s even thrown in some hugely worrying defensive fragility so far this season. It’s just like the good old days.
5. He’s not Jose Mourinho
Well, that gives anyone a much better chance to win Manager of the Season, doesn’t it?