Unai Emery came in for much criticism as his Arsenal side’s quest for Champions League football dramatically collapsed last season.
Having looked all set to stage a late-season charge for the Champions League after two consecutive finishes outside of the top four under Arsene Wenger, the nature of their eventual failure saw the Spaniard and his players feeling the wrath of the Arsenal faithful.
However, the months and years that preceded Emery’s Emirates arrival attributed to much of his downfall during his debut season – and without his legendary predecessor around to answer for Arsenal’s current woes, the mistakes made towards the end of his premiership often get overlooked as the club’s absence from Europe’s top-tier competition enters a third year.
After finally ending the club’s infamous trophy drought that lasted nine years, there was a sense that Arsenal were building something special following the signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in successive seasons.
But losing out on the Premier League to Leicester City saw The Gunners blow their big chance, and while the following campaign started promisingly, their mid-season crash sowed the seeds for the problems that we are still witnessing at The Emirates today.
The club went through a shocking run of form in early 2017 that saw Arsenal’s only victories between February and April of that year come against Hull City and two non-league sides in Sutton United and Lincoln City.
Despite finishing strongly by winning the FA Cup, the away form that decimated that campaign is reminiscent of The Gunners’ current struggles. It’s easy to forget how performing away from home was an issue pre-Emery, with their victory over Huddersfield Town in May of last year (in Wenger’s final match) Arsenal’s first on the road in the league since the previous December.
Wenger parted ways as Arsenal never really got themselves out of that rut, but that’s not the only example of rooting the club’s challenges for the new regime.
Arsenal have rarely spent big, especially with having to work with limited funds to pay for their stadium, and while the big-money signings of Ozil, Sanchez and Granit Xhaka were signs of change, Wenger’s heavy outlay on Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang within the space of six months was uncharacteristic, to say the least.
Meanwhile, tying Ozil down to an eye-watering £300k-a-week contract means the club’s restrictions on finances – especially without the Champions League – are no big surprise.
With all those factors in mind, while it is fair that Emery receives stick for not making ground on the shortcomings that did for the great Arsene Wenger, the Frenchman’s input to his own downfall is still evident at the club over 12 months on from his departure – and that should not be forgotten as Emery battles to rectify the mess left in his wake.
That he was one game away – in more than one competition – to getting Arsenal back to the Champions League suggests his Gunners project may well be making more progress than his predecessor would otherwise have managed – and with more problems to contend with from the get-go, perhaps any qualms over the manager’s failed first season should take a little more context into consideration.