Opinion

Why Wenger’s ‘biggest mistake’ has Arsenal set to surprise

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Arsenal manager Unai Emery has laid bare his plans to bring “ambition” back to the club and clean out the cobwebs of Arsene Wenger’s biggest mistake.

“Complacency is a disease, especially for individuals and organisations that have enjoyed success.” 

Sir Alex Ferguson’s adage to his titanic tenure at Manchester United doubly careens off in reference to his fallen rivals, including Wenger himself. 

While three Premier League titles, seven FA Cups and seven Community Shields comfortably confirm the Frenchman as the Gunners’ all-time great, his recent admission after stepping down perhaps holds the most importance. 

When pressed on the biggest mistake of his career, the 68-year-old replied with: “Perhaps staying at the same club for 22 years … I realise I’ve hurt a lot of people around me.” 

In truth, Wenger’s value waned with fans, to the point that thousands of empty seats stared glaringly back at the dugout during the latter stages of last season.

Arsenal’s sixth-place finish, the club’s lowest since 1995, failure to win the UEFA Europa League or even claim a Cup proved the telling blows and exposed the club’s complacent culture for all to see.

And yet, it is this stark regression that could not have given Emery a cleaner slate to start with.

If fans had any doubts surrounding the Spaniard’s arrival, his first words would have duly won them over. 

“I want ambition from this team,” Emery said. “I want them to be ambitious in every match.” 

If re-establishing Arsenal’s ambition was the first step of the Emery era, his subsequent strides have continued to resolve the issues Wenger couldn’t. 

With defensive fragility a key weakness last season, the 46-year-old has since spent £71 million (A$125.6 million) to bring goalkeeper Bernd Leno, defenders Stephan Lichtsteiner (free) and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, as well as defensive-minded midfielders Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi to the club.

This strengthened spine will seek to balance out a multi-pronged attack in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation; built primarily to score goals and elicit the one thing Emery believes football is built on: emotion. 

“I said I prefer to win 5-4 than 1-0 because football is about emotion and what is the best feeling in football? When you score,” he added.

If the International Champions Cup is anything to go by, the former Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain boss is set to unleash Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in a variety of combinations this season. 

Buoyed by the presence of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the plethora of space and opportunity in the final third is set to have fans at the Emirates filled with newfound expectation.

As Antonio Conte found out during his title-winning season with Chelsea, a lack of UEFA Champions League football will keep the Gunners fresh and focused on domestic honours – an opportunity they must make the most of. 

While Emery has intentionally avoided talk of silverware, he is yet to put a foot wrong at Arsenal and would love the opportunity to announce his presence in English football with a win against defending champions Manchester City on August 13. 

And though they currently round out the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’, the upcoming campaign could see a change of order and the reinvigorated Gunners firing on all cylinders once again.