By Andrew Warshaw
Just 10 days after north London rivals Tottenham sacked their much-admired manager Maurico Pochettino after five years in charge, Arsenal followed suit today by dismissing Unai Emery – though not quite with the same surprise or fanfare.
Unlike Pochettino, who transformed Tottenham’s fortunes before being replaced by Jose Mourinho, Emery had done little to endear himself to the Arsenal fans in the 18 months since succeeding the legendary Arsene Wenger. In fact his dismissal probably came as a blessing to the supporters who had never taken to the Spaniard.
Emery, who previously led Paris St-Germain to the French league title and won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla, is being replaced on a temporary basis by Freddie Ljungberg who was part of Arsenal’s title-winning teams in 2002 and 2004 but who only became part of the first-team coaching setup in the summer. The 42-year-old Swede has no previous managerial experience, having spent six months as assistant coach at the German club Wolfsburg in 2017-18.
Emery leaves Arsenal eighth in the Premier League on a seven-match winless run, their worst sequence since 1992 and after a highly fortunate 2-2 home draw against lowly Southampton last weekend and a home defeat on Wednesday to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League in front of a sparse crowd with many regular supporters having voted with their feet on Emery’s tenure.
Last season Arsenal managed to finish fifth but missed out on a Champions League spot in the process and did so again when they lost the Europa League final a few days later to Chelsea. The club were expected to push on from that but have arguably been even worse this season.
“Our most sincere thanks go to Unai and his colleagues who were unrelenting in their efforts to get the club back to competing at the level we all expect and demand. We wish Unai and his team nothing but future success,” said an Arsenal statement. “The decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required. The search for a new head coach is underway and we will make a further announcement when that process is complete.”
Arsenal Supporters Trust issued a hard-hitting statement calling for a return to winning ways, saying Emery’s dismissal was “unfortunate but inevitable” and the “more difficult challenge is to recruit a suitable successor. We are far from certain that Arsenal has the right personnel to lead this process.
“Things can’t go on like this. The club needs decisive action to address this. There should also be greater accountability from the new football management personnel as to what they are doing to address Arsenal’s decline.”
Emery is the third Premier League manager to depart this season after Pochettino and Watford’s Javi Gracia. Former Chelsea manager and three-time Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, currently at Napoli, is reportedly a candidate to replace Emery. In what would be a supreme irony and hard to stomach for spurs fans, Pochettino is also reported to be in the frame but is unlikely to make such a contentious move across north London.
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