By Martyn Herman
LONDON (Reuters) – There will be no gentle introduction to Premier League football for Arsenal manager Unai Emery as he begins the task of steering the club into a brave new post-Arsene Wenger world.
Looming on the horizon for the Spaniard is an opening-day home game against last year’s runaway champions Manchester City. Then it’s a trip across town to Chelsea.
Hardly a honeymoon period. But then again Emery always knew that leaving mega-rich Paris St Germain for the most unforgiving league in Europe would be full-on from day one.
Arsenal fans in their mid 20s and younger are unlikely to have any recollection of a season kicking off without Wenger at the helm. Even the older generations must have thought change would never come before the Frenchman finally stepped aside at the end of last season and was replaced by Emery.
While Wenger will always command reverence at Arsenal, even from those who ran out of patience with the Frenchman in the latter years of his 22-year reign, there is a genuine excitement about the build-up to the new season.
Emery actually comes with a much more impressive track record than Wenger boasted when he arrived to questions of ‘Arsene Who?’. He won three successive Europa Leagues with Sevilla and last year landed a domestic treble with PSG.
In terms of the challenge that lies ahead it is not dissimilar to what Wenger inherited in 1996 — a club in need of a kickstart after stalling on the pitch.
The trouble is the competition in the top-six of England’s top tier has never been fiercer and pushing the Gunners up from the sixth position they finished last season and back into the Champions League will be a devilishly tough assignment.
Emery will certainly not fail for lack of preparation and attention to detail. Unlike Wenger’s more hand’s-off approach, the Spaniard is well-known for his devotion to painstaking preparation, post-match analysis and belief in marginal gains.
During his time in charge at Valencia his insistence on players watching videos of forthcoming opponents led Joaquin to quip that “I ran out of popcorn”.
Emery is certainly not short of ambition, judging by his comments when first being unveiled to a curious British media.
“We can grow with these players and the objective is to work hard with these talented players, to work to be a candidate for all the titles in the future,” he said.
“After two years outside the Champions League, to work towards this, to arrive and be the best team in the Premier League and also the world.”
A bold ambition indeed and Emery at least appears to be starting by putting in the defensive foundations that had become so unstable in Wenger’s latter years.
German keeper Bernd Leno has arrived from Bayer Leverkusen while former Juventus defender and Switzerland skipper Stephan Lichtsteiner will add experience to the back four, as will Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos who joined from Borussia Dortmund.
Uruguayan Lucas Torreira, signed from Sampdoria, looks like the kind of midfield linchpin Arsenal have been crying out for while in attack Emery will hope Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will form a fruitful partnership.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Toby Davis)