The more I hear about Unai Emery, the more I find myself encouraged.
I admit that I was among those a touch underwhelmed when the news broke on Monday that the Spaniard was on the verge of being appointed as successor to Arsene Wenger, the first new manager/head coach the club has appointed in a generation.
Most surprising of all was the way in which the 46-year-old appeared to have been catapulted into the limelight from absolute obscurity, with the widely anticipated appointment of Mikel Arteta apparently never seriously being considered.
Having grown so used to the idea that the former Gunner was set to be appointed, I found myself taken aback that the club had apparently performed a u-turn and dumped the man they had apparently so publically courted and pursued, replacing him with a relative unknown, at least on these shores.
Like most, I was quick to scour the search engines for a little more insight into just who this newcomer was and what he could offer a team suffering a real slump for the first time in more than 20 years.
And the more I have read and absorbed, the more I have grown to respect the Spaniard and the good work he has done in his relatively short career.
Ivan Gazidis was effusive in his praise of Emery as the new man was unveiled to the press on Wednesday, and much was made of this appointment being the one the board wanted above all others – above a shortlist of seven other candidates who were apparently all interviewed for the position.
Now, the chief executive is admittedly never going to concede that he didn’t land his first or second choices, undermining entirely the new man in charge in the meantime, but it was interesting nonetheless to hear more about the process and how well the former PSG manager had done.
He isn’t quite the Max Allegri or Luis Enrique-level signing that many had hoped for, but that may even work in his favour. Both Allegri and Enrique would be marquee signings, with huge budgets required to launch their tenures and even bigger expectations placed on their shoulders to succeed.
Emery comes with no such weighty reputation, and has a track record of doing great things with small budgets, small squads, and promising talents. In short, the Arsenal job is one that appears well suited to his modus operandi, much more so than the egocentric, money-bloated drama queens in Paris.
There is no doubting that he has a great deal of work to do and some seriously meticulous planning in order to whip his squad into shape but, from what has been said of him from those who know, he is relishing the challenge.
If the team can buy into a new way of working, a new philosophy, and ride the wave of optimism too, there is reason to be cheerful.
I think it is a little too soon to be dreaming of glorious returns to the big time, but there is cause to be optimistic.
Objectively, the appointment of Arteta would have been a big gamble. Pep Guardiola’s assistant he may have been, but a manager of head coach he was not and it is possible that catapulting him into the Arsenal job would have been a punt too far. In appointing Emery, the board have erred somewhat, but also gambled a little too, on a manager who won’t set pulses racing, but who has a progressive vision and a fresh approach to the game, something that hasn’t been seen at the Emirates for a long time.
Arsene Wenger’s shoes will be difficult ones to fill, but I am confident Unai has been given the framework to make a success of it. Changes have taken place in the setup around him which will allow him to focus on delivering on the pitch, while others take care of matters off of it.
Here’s to the dawn of a new era.