LONDON. — Unai Emery’s first season in charge at Arsenal is in danger of imploding unless the Spaniard can again prove himself to be a Europa League football specialist and cover up an alarming dip in the Gunners’ English Premier League form.
Arsenal have lost four of their past five league games to Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City to slip down to fifth and relying on more favours from Chelsea or Tottenham to have any chance of a top-four finish.
However, winning the Europa League would also offer a much-needed return to the Champions League next season after a two-year absence.
For 20 years under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal enjoyed the riches and the glamour of the Champions League and the impact of missing out has had serious implications on the budget Emery has had to work with.
In January, he revealed the club could not afford to make any permanent signings. Emery is a specialist in Europe’s second-tier competition, winning it three times when at Sevilla, and he is also well acquainted with Arsenal’s semi-final opponents, Valencia, who he managed between 2008 and 2012.
Emery also did a stellar job at the Mestalla, leading Valencia to three consecutive third-placed finishes behind dominant Barcelona and Real Madrid sides managed by Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
“Emery was inducted into the Valencia hall of fame as one of the managers to have spent most time at Valencia, qualifying the team for the Champions League and performing well in it,” Valencia-based journalist Luis Cortes told AFP.
However, doubts remain over his ability to lead Arsenal’s rebuild back to the heights they once enjoyed under Wenger.
The same defensive issues that haunted the Frenchman’s final years in charge have been evident in recent weeks, conceding three times in three consecutive league defeats for the first time since 1967.
Emery has constantly changed personnel and formations, but is yet to find the right balance, with one of his two star forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often left out.
Yet, there have been notable successes. Top-four rivals Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United were all beaten at the Emirates this season and Emery’s men won home and away to Napoli in the Europa League quarter-finals. — AFP.