We’ve all got used to seeing Unai Emery in the Emirates Stadium dugout now. After two decades of Arsene Wenger and his big coats, Emery is now the man in charge of Arsenal and the Gunners fanbase seem to have taken the Spaniard to heart.
However, it wasn’t just an overdue managerial changing of the guard that occurred in north London last year. The club itself has recently undergone seismic changes at practically all levels.
Not long after the appointment of Wenger’s successor, Ivan Gazidis – the principle decision-maker behind that huge call – left the club too, to take up a role at AC Milan. Chief commercial officer Vinai Venkatesham and head of football Raul Sanllehi were named as Gazidis’ replacements, becoming managing director and head of football respectively.
What’s more, in September, Stan Kroenke finally succeeded in his long-held ambition to become the sole, 100% owner of the club. Individual shareholders were forced to sell up, and suddenly Arsenal became the property of one man.
Far more than just getting a new manager, in many ways Arsenal became a whole new, and much more modern, club in 2018.
Pl>ymaker FC believes Arsenal fans won’t have to wait long to see Unai Emery’s long-term ambitions for the club come to fruition. Watch the video below to find out why…
One big aspect of Arsenal’s transition into a 21st century outfit was the restructuring of their transfer market strategy and operational setup. Whereas under Wenger, the manager himself practically held all of the power, in the wake of his departure a committee system was introduced. The three key members of which are Emery, Sanllehi, and the Gunners’ head of recruitment, Sven Mislintat.
Sanllehi and Mislintat both joined the club in 2017 (with Sanllehi not officially taking up his position until early 2018), and arrived with big reputations and impressive CVs. The former had spent much of the previous decade as director of football at Barcelona, in which capacity he oversaw the Catalan club’s captures of Alexis Sanchez and Neymar. Mislintat, meanwhile, made his name with Borussia Dortmund, where his habit of spotting exciting young talents such as Ousmane Dembele, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski earned him the nickname ‘Diamond Eye’.
Together, along with Emery, this trio decide who comes and goes from the Arsenal squad.
The summer window just gone was their first market working together and they were busy, bringing five new faces to the Emirates Stadium: Bernd Leno, Sokratis, Stephan Lichtsteiner, Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi.
It must first be acknowledged that much of their business has so far proven successful. Torreira is the robust and tenacious defensive midfielder that Arsenal have been crying out for for years; 19-year-old Guendouzi has been a revelation considering the vast majority of his previous playing experience came in the French second tier; and Sokratis has been generally solid at the back, bringing some much-needed authority and physicality to the Gunners’ rearguard.
36-year-old Lichtsteiner, meanwhile, who arrived as a free agent from Juventus to provide cover for Hector Bellerin, looks to have succumbed to his advancing years. Leno, for his part, has shown lots of quality but also flashes of indecision and fallibility that leave the jury very much out on him as a top level goalkeeper.
So far, though, Arsenal’s transfer committee have done well. Those early steps were the easy ones though. Now, the great challenge of getting Arsenal back to competing for the biggest prizes in England and beyond faces them. Considering they shall have to do so on a relatively meagre budget – at least in comparison with their rivals such as Manchester United and City – makes this task all the more daunting.
Further challenges present themselves in the form of Mesut Ozil, whose future at the club and usefulness to Emery’s squad must be in doubt, but the situation is complicated by the German playmaker’s vast wages and long contract. The replacement for Aaron Ramsey must also be identified and acquired, which is no small ask either.
It is too early to completely judge Emery, Sanllehi and Mislintat’s joint competence in the transfer market, but what is for sure is that their partnership is enduring a baptism of fire as they attempt to restore this club to the top of the game.
There’s a long way still to go for Arsenal, and patience shall surely be required from the board and the fans before tangible, long-term progress is made and major silverware won. However, the great leap of faith into the workings of modern world football has been made, and the club have landed seemingly unscathed. That alone is reason enough to be excited for what the future might hold at the Emirates.