It’ll Take More Than a Year For Emery to Fix Arsenal’s Long-Standing Problems

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Unai Emery ( Aleksandr Osipov)

This weekend’s results show that new Arsenal coach Unai Emery has not solved the long-standing problems that developed under Arsene Wenger’s reign. The team looks slick and sharp going forward and has no problem scoring goals, but there are still major problems with the defense. The marking in the 5–1 mauling at Liverpool was awful and it seems that the team still lacks mental toughness. They bounced back with a 4–1 win over Fulham, a team in the relegation zone. But this revealed another problem, Arsenal can win against weak opponents but crumble in the big games. And these are the same problems that occurred under Wenger.

As I mentioned in an earlier column, fingers need to be pointed at the board who allowed the team to decline under Wenger. It seemed the board tolerated Wenger, as long as he made the top four and was earning a profit. But, as I said in a 2012 Bleacher Report column, Wenger’s lack of progress and the board’s lack of investment in the team would eventually cost them money. And this happened, Arsenal is now a second-tier team. The best they can hope for is a cup or winning the Europa League. They are not challenging for the Premier League trophy. Arsenal is simply not in the same category as the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, which was evident on Saturday.

It’s interesting to note that bitter rivals Manchester United have also declined. The United-Arsenal game used to be seen as a top of the table clash between two heavyweight champions who went toe-to-toe. But now it’s a game between two fading champions who are fighting over scraps.

The board has been punished for not removing Wenger faster and spending on the team. Instead of competing in the Champions Leauge, now Arsenal are battling for the Europa League. According to UEFA.com, clubs who participate in the Champions League get to share from a $2.32 billion pot. Participants in the Europa League get to share from a $579 million pot.

As I said before, the state of Arsenal comes down to poor management. A good executive fixes a problem quickly and doesn’t let it fester. Small problems turn into bigger problems. When it became obvious that Wenger simply didn’t have it anymore, which was evident after he oversaw several heavy defeats, he should have been given a golden handshake and moved on. Another interesting fact is Arsenal’s decline coincides with the arrival of American Stan Kroenke, who first invested in the club in 2007. Last year, Kroenke bought controlling shares in the team. According to the Telegraph, the Arsenal Supporters’ Trust described this as a “very sad day for Arsenal Football Club.”

Wenger was coddled and tolerated, allowing the problems to fester and get even worse. Now, Arsenal has fallen behind the top-tier teams and is struggling to play catch up. Emery has made progress, but it’s clear he has to gut and rebuild the team. The Gunners’ problems didn’t happen overnight and it’s going to take a long time to fix them.

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Manny Otiko writes about race, politics and sports. He has been published in Salon and LA Weekly. Follow him on Twitter @mannyotiko.

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