Arsenal manager Unai Emery is enjoying an exceptional run in his first season with the club after replacing the legendary Arsene Wenger. Arsenal hasn’t lost a match since August 18, covering a stretch of 21 straight contests in all competitions. The terrific run of form has predictably earned Emery an enormous amount of praise, but has also surprisingly spawned some skepticism regarding his long-term success.
Emery is a meticulous planner whose strength often lies in preparation, and he is resistant to departing from a planned course of action, according to the Daily Mail. He sits over hours of video prior to a match, and prepares for all contingencies to the point of obsession. This discipline is funneled down to his players, one of whom once joked about leaving Emery’s pre-match video sessions because he “ran out of popcorn.”
Emery faced a difficult challenge to his methods this week, as his obsession with preparation was pitted against his commitment to discipline. After photographs were published on Tuesday of seven of Arsenal’s players smoking “hippy crack” (nitrous oxide) outside of an exclusive nightclub, pundits wondered how Emery would react. Emery, who micromanages his players down to their sleeping and eating habits, doesn’t allow Arsenal’s players to smoke anything, never mind “hippy crack.” Yet on Saturday, it was preparation that won out, with Emery fielding his planned lineup. Five of the seven guilty players started the game, another came on at the half and played 45 minutes, while the seventh sat out due to injury.
Emery’s planning and preparation paid off once again, as the preconceived halftime substitutions of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan created a better flow to the match against Huddersfield in the second half, and Arsenal won it on a late goal from Lucas Torreira.
Emery’s success has not come without its detractors, some of whom doubt that Emery’s methods can create sustained success at the professional level. Emery, who has introduced far more intense training sessions to Arsenal than those under Wenger, is assisted by Pablo Villanueva, who the Express says players have dubbed “The General” and lamented that “He is a beast in training.” Some have suggested that these intense training methods are responsible for the rash of injuries that Arsenal has experienced heading into the holiday season, according to the Evening Standard.
Shkrodan Mustafi’s injury in the Huddersfield match made him the seventh member of the first team relegated to the sidelines, but Emery didn’t believe that the increased intensity of the training sessions was the culprit.
“No. I don’t know if this is the reason. Big injuries like with Rob and Welbeck is… then it is normal,” Emery said after the match. “We have played three matches. Mustafi is ok. It’s only because he is feeling muscular [that he came off], but [it’s] not a break.”
Reporters suggested that Arsenal’s lethargic performance against an overmatched Huddersfield squad could be another sign of fatigue setting in.
“Each match is different. Each match is tough. The way to win is different,” Emery defended himself. “We know today was more difficult than last week. Why? Because the opposition were going to play with that slow rhythm. If we can score quickly we can start better in the game. Maybe it would have been more easy for us but it can happen like today. We need calm because we are looking for a win today to finish the week in a good position in the table. We finished like we wanted.”
Arsenal will try to extend their unbeaten streak in their final Europa League Group Stage match on Thursday.