Arsenal fans may not be thinking of him in the wake of their comfortable 3-0 win over Newcastle United on Monday night, but they have Unai Emery to thank for their recent upturn in form. Although the former Gunners boss is not fondly remembered in north London, he did do some good while in charge.
Arsenal’s victory over Newcastle – their second in nine days over Steve Bruce’s side – extended their unbeaten run to five games in the Premier League and made it five successive clean sheets in all competitions.
After enduring such a miserable start to the campaign, Mikel Arteta now appears to have his side right where he wants them, climbing the table.
He has a solid foundation at the back from which to build on, a more functional midfield, genuine creation in the final third and a marquee player firing again.
While there are a mixture of factors behind the Gunners’ recent improvement, the most eye-catching undoubtedly comes from the youthful contingent who have been at the heart of their streak of positive results.
Kieran Tierney – still just 23 years old – has developed into the kind of energetic, determined and constantly overlapping left-back supporters hoped he would after shaking off injuries.
Bukayo Saka, 19, has established himself as the side’s go-to man for any occasion or position, offering creativity, invention and no lack of talent all across the pitch. His goal against Newcastle showed his composure in front of goal.
Emile Smith Rowe, 20, has come from nowhere to provide the refreshingly forward-thinking No 10 the side has been crying out for ever since Mesut Ozil’s form dropped alarmingly. His run and cross for Saka’s goal means he has either scored or assisted in seven of his 10 appearances in all competitions this season.
Gabriel Martinelli, 19, has been hampered by injuries which have limited him to just a handful of appearances so far this season, but when he has played he has shone bright as a beacon of hope.
It was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who netted twice against Newcastle and it has been Alexandre Lacazette who has been scoring the majority of the goals in previous games – but it has been the new youthful spine which has stood out.
And this is where Emery comes in, because, although he had many deficiencies which held him back and made him unsuitable for the Arsenal manager’s job in the long run, he did plenty of good as well.
It was Emery who signed Tierney from Celtic in August 2019 and it was the Spaniard who handed out debuts to Saka, Smith Rowe and Martinelli.
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Arsenal fans can be happy about the progress their team is making under Arteta and give credit to his predecessor – Saka certainly does.
“For starters, I just want to say I have to mention Unai Emery because of the amount he believed in me,” Saka said in July after signing a long-term contract with the club. “The opportunities he gave me, I’ll forever be grateful for them.”
Martinelli, who joined Arsenal from Brazilian side Ituano in 2019, had similar praise for his former manager last February.
“Unai helped me a lot, he was the first who trusted me and picked me,” he told Marca. “I will always be very grateful. He was the one who gave me the first minutes in Europe.”
Both Arsenal and Emery are better off apart. The 49-year-old is now in charge at Villareal, where he has guided the Spanish club to fourth place in La Liga after 18 games. They are in touch with giants Real Madrid and Barcelona and in with a real shot at qualifying for the Champions League.
Emery clearly has his faults, but Gunners fans should not write off his time at the club as a complete disaster.
After all, they only need to look at the fresh faces in their team to understand his impact.