Wednesday 18 September 2019

Obsessive Emery rebuilding Arsenal in his own image

Unai Emer and his players have a new venue for their next Europa League assignment Photo: PA
Unai Emer and his players have a new venue for their next Europa League assignment Photo: PA

Sam Dean

It still feels like English football is in the introductory stage of its relationship with Unai Emery, but each week the picture of the Arsenal head coach is brought into sharper focus.

Arsenal fans are coming to know a man as relentlessly obsessive as the pre-season rumours had them believe, and it is also increasingly clear Emery takes pleasure from life's challenges.

That much may seem obvious, given his desire to take on the considerable task of succeeding Arsene Wenger. But it extends to the smaller things, too, like his choice of television show. For even when he affords himself a rare moment to switch off from football, Emery watches TV in English to improve his language skills.

His latest choice, he says, is the Birmingham-based gangster epic, Peaky Blinders, which is known almost as much for its impenetrable Midlands accents as for its gritty violence. "It's good," Emery laughs. "But it's difficult. And it's very aggressive." There has not been time to watch Harry Redknapp in the I'm A Celebrity jungle - "not yet," Emery says - but that may change.

Earth-shattering revelations these are not. But the image of Emery taking time away from the day-to-day demands of Arsenal, sitting on the sofa and frowning at the Brummie dialect is one we had not previously been given.

Speak to enough people at the club about his all-consuming work ethic and it would not be hard to imagine Emery curled up on his office floor every night, watching reruns of last week's match over and over again.

Arsenal executives describe Emery hunching over a laptop in the early hours of the morning on a flight home from European games, scribbling notes while the rest of the club sleep.

"I don't know if it's an obsession," Emery says. "In each profession, you need to feel passion for that to give it your best performance. Football is my passion. It's my work, but I don't think every day that it is my work. It's my best hobby. I feel very big the passion. I am doing my work with desire."

If it's not an obsession, then how about we call it an addiction?

That's how Eddie Howe, the manager of Bournemouth and Emery's opponent today, describes it. "I think I am addicted to the game," Howe said this week. "I think you have to be."

Perhaps all managers are like this, but it seems Emery and Howe are on the more extreme end of the scale. Both focus fanatically on the tiny details that go into every match, and both have created teams where the minutiae of structure and positioning are vital.

Naturally, this approach can take its toll, and Howe was candid at the end of last season when he discussed how much the campaign had drained him.

"The way I push myself, the way I work, they are very, very long days, because I want to be the best I can be," he said in May. "I have really felt the effects of the season. I am going to need to recharge my batteries."

It is a balance both he and Emery are no doubt trying to find. There will be time for unwinding, but it will not be over the next two months, and certainly not at the Vitality Stadium today, when two of the Premier League's most breathlessly exciting sides meet.

Emery's work ethic has been transferred to his team, who have covered more ground than any other side this season.

Arsenal have scored and conceded a total of 41 goals, the second-most in the division, while Bournemouth are on 37, the fifth-most. On paper at least, it should be open and flowing, and there should be plenty for Emery and Howe to analyse, study and obsess over in the coming days. It can be gruelling work, but that is the way they like it.


Bournemouth v Arsenal
Sky Sports, 1.30

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