‘Never be the man that follows an exceptionally successful manager’ as the old adage goes. Often, it’s like being offered a poisoned chalice. Just ask David Moyes. He swallowed a draught from that particularly enticing cup when he took over from Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, and the taste was so bitter. Even the tenure of Louis van Gaal, and perhaps also include the current travails of José Mourinho may be considered as inevitable due to standing in the giant shadow left by the now departed Scot.
Consider then for a moment the fate of Unai Emery. Although Arsène Wenger’s CV at Arsenal did not quite match up to Ferguson’s at Old Trafford, it came as close as any. After being the Gunners’ main man for more than two decades, a similar hole was left at The Emirates to the one that Ferguson left at Old Trafford. Such being the case, and given the mixed, at best, fortunes of Fergie’s successors, wise counsel may have been whispering in Emery’s ear to take a moment and consider whether moving to North London was a sound career decision.
Although by the estimations of the club, he may have fell short on his brief at PSG by failing to collect the Champions League with such an array of talent, having won the domestic treble in his final season before waving Au Revoir et Merci to Paris, his stock as a manager was pretty high. It’s surely likely that there were other options for him to explore without gambling on being the man to fulfil the ambitions of Arsenal fans sedated, rather than sated, by the last sad days of Wenger’s reign. It probably speaks of the man’s self-belief that, for all this, he took up the challenge.
When the season got underway, a couple of defeats to erstwhile ‘top six’ rivals may have suggested that, even if this was the man to pick up Wenger’s mantle and advance matters, it may take some time to get things moving in the right direction. After the unlucky defeat to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge however when, but for an uncharacteristic profligacy by his strikers squandering chances aplenty to take all three points, suddenly things dropped into place.
With new players bedded in and his system starting to click, the Gunners began to fire. A run of nine consecutive victories, culminating in a pulsating 1-5 win at Fulham with a performance bursting with the vigour and elan so sadly absent as Wenger’s reign came to an end, have set a momentum rolling that the manager, not to mention the fans, must wish had not been interrupted by the international break.
As the leaves on the trees turn to gold, Gunners fans will be hoping that their team’s fortunes will do the same. Returning to domestic action after the break, just two points from the top of the table, they have an entirely winnable couple of league games scheduled; the first at home to Leicester City, before visiting Crystal Palace. In between, comes a Europa League encounter, visiting a Sporting Lisbon side underperforming, and currently lying in sixth place in the Primeira Liga. After visiting Palace, there’s a Carabao Cup encounter at home to Blackpool wherein the club’s lesser lights will probably be deployed and should be more than capable of disposing of the League One side, and that takes us to the end of October. Come through all those games unscathed, which looks eminently achievable, and the next big test of the season will be faced with a run of 13 victories.
Emery and all Arsenal fans will be hoping that the number is not a harbinger of ill fortune when Liverpool visit The Emirates just two days before Bonfires are set to be lit. If the Gunners triumph in that one, it’ll certainly set off a few fireworks, and the effective, if somewhat quiet, way that Unai Emery has gone about succeeding Arsène Wenger and building the Gunners’ success will suddenly become sparklingly obvious.