When Unai Emery was unveiled as Arsenal manager on 23 May he spoke in the Emirates ‘Diamond Club’ about his commitment to pressing football and how that energy could invigorate the frustrated fans here. It was as close as we have got to any form of Emery manifesto for his Arsenal tenure.
“I have always been a coach who wants possession, and I like to win the ball back as quickly as possible,” Emery explained through his interpreter. “It is about two things: possession and pressing. Football is a demanding and difficult sport. But what I want is for Arsenal to transmit energy and emotion to the fans.”
Here at the Emirates more than five months on, Arsenal looked closer to Emery’s ideals for the game than ever before. They pressed Liverpool with a purpose that not many teams manage and in doing so they managed to disrupt Liverpool’s game. Speaking afterwards, Emery revelled in the fact that his team succeeded in showing the traits he had always hoped for from them. Too often in the past Arsenal had never really made an impression on their opposition, but this time they did.
“Our basis in the match was our intensity,” Emery said in his post-match press conference. “One characteristic is this intensity. This way is good for us, it is a good test. We need more in our work, tactically. But the spirit is what we want.”
Emery knows that too often in the past, there has a been a cycle of low-energy negativity between the players and the fans here at the Emirates. Last night the opposite was true: the positive energy of the crowd and the team fed into one another. It was football as Emery intended it. “The atmosphere today was a very big atmosphere,” Emery said. “We were pushing for 90 minutes. It was a very good spectacle for supporters. For them, for us and also for football.”
In this sense it was very different from when Arsenal played Manchester City and Chelsea at the start of the season. Arsenal lost 2-0 to Manchester City here on opening day, the first game of the Emery era, and quite understandably they failed to make much of an impression on the champions.
This performance against City’s closest title rivals shows how far they have come in this season already. “The Premier League is the first competition for us,” Emery said. “It is very important when you play City, Chelsea or Liverpool. How we were against City, we are more near today than our performance [then].”
This is the progress that Arsenal are making, getting closer to Emery’s ideals every time. They are not there yet but they are getting nearer and they are able to do things now that no Arsenal team has done in recent years. “I am happy with our performance,” said a proud Emery afterwards. “The balance of 90 minutes is a more positive balance of control.”
Slowly but surely Arsenal are reaching Emery’s goal.