Unai Emery: Arsenal lost their way under Arsène Wenger
Manager says he ‘had to change things’ when he replaced French man at club
Arsenal head coach Unai Emery gestures on the touchline during the match d Wolverhampton Wanderers at the Emirates Stadium in London on November 11th. Photograph: Getty Images
Unai Emery believes Arsenal were in decline towards the end of Arsène Wenger’s 22-year reign and “had to change things”.
The club failed to finish in the top four for the first time under Wenger in his final two campaigns, a situation Emery believes was down to losing the “defensive structure”.
In an interview with the Spanish newspaper Marca, Arsenal’s head coach said: “I met once with him, and little else. I respect him a lot but no matter how much info he gave me, I had to change things. I told the players: ‘We started at kilometre zero.’ Even now, four months later, I still say it: ‘We are in the beginning!’”
Emery feels Arsenal lost sight of a key aspect during Wenger’s closing seasons. “Before Wenger arrived, Arsenal celebrated the 1-0 [win] and was based on defensive solidity. Then with Arsène, joy was turned into attack, with players of good standing, and the perfect combination was the Invincibles,” he said in reference to the club winning the Premier League unbeaten in 2004.
“But over time, only technical quality and offensive freedom were taken care of, and the team lost the defensive structure. What I want is to unite both essences and be more competitive. The Arsenal was in decline. We had to stop it and start climbing.”
Arsenal go to Bournemouth on Sunday unbeaten in 16 matches in all competitions. “The Premier League is our priority, and our objective in terms of the table is to finish in the top four,” Emery told Arsenal’s website.
“The club wants to return to Europe’s top club competition, which is the Champions League, and we have two opportunities by which to do that – one is the Premier League and the other is the Europa League. ”
Meanwhile, Mauricio Pochettino has expressed hope that Tottenham can move into their new stadium in “January or February” – raising the prospect of further delays to the £1 billion project.
The club had announced on October 26th that their home matches for the remainder of 2018 would be played at Wembley, which was taken by some to mean that the curtain-raiser at the new ground could be against Manchester United on January 13th. But there is little certainty about any definitive dates and Pochettino has now mentioned February as a possibility. As an insurance policy, Spurs have taken out an option on Wembley until the end of the season.
“We are so disappointed because we expected to play in 2018 at the new stadium and it should have been ready to play before the end of the year but that is not going to be possible and we need to wish and hope that in January or February we can move there,” Pochettino said.
“Yesterday afternoon we were there, checking the facilities, the changing rooms, everything, and we are so excited, we cannot wait to move there. We understand that it is a fantastic project for the future of the club that will be for ever. To wait maybe one or two months more – we need to have patience.”
Pochettino said Jan Vertonghen was available for Saturday’s game against Chelsea at Wembley after recovering from the hamstring injury that has kept him out since the end of September. The timing of the Belgian’s return is good because another centre-half, Davinson Sánchez, remains out with hamstring trouble. “Davinson is hopeful of a return before the end of the calendar year,” the club said. Kieran Trippier, Danny Rose (both groin) and Mousa Dembélé (ankle) are also out.
Pochettino gave his opinion on the future of Christian Eriksen, who is out of contract in June 2020 and in no hurry to agree to fresh terms. The manager was keen to remind the midfielder how good Spurs had been for his career.
“When Christian signed [from Ajax in 2013], he was a prospect, a very good player but still young and Tottenham provided a very good platform to develop his quality,” Pochettino said. “Eriksen and Tottenham, and Tottenham and Eriksen, was a very good mix. Good for Tottenham and good for Christian Eriksen. That’s why I hope Christian continues to develop his career with Tottenham.”