Unai Emery declared his intention to turn Arsenal into “the best team in the Premier League and also the world” after being confirmed as the managerial successor to Arsène Wenger on a three-year contract.
On a day of hyperbole, the chief executive, Ivan Gazidis, suggested that the Arsenal job was the most coveted in football and made it plain that in Emery, the club believed they had the man to rekindle former glories.
Emery spoke in English at his unveiling at Emirates Stadium, which was a surprise – it was decent enough – and he described the challenge in front of him as a “dream come true”.
The 46-year-old Spaniard’s title is that of head coach and he will concentrate on coaching and man-managing the first-team, while Raúl Sanllehí and Sven Mislintat, whom Gazidis has appointed to recruitment positions, will oversee transfers.
Emery has agreed to work within the new structure and he knows that the club will operate on a £50m transfer budget next season. He suggested that he did not envisage wholesale changes to the squad, which finished sixth in this past Premier League campaign. “This team is a big team, with big players, and we think we need to change little things – a few players,” he said. “The target is to be a candidate and to challenge for the title. It is very important for the club, after two years outside the Champions League, to work this way, to be the best club, the best team in the Premier League and also in the world.”
Emery was asked about his style. “My idea is to be protagonists,” he said. “The history here is a team that loves playing with possession and I like that person. When you don’t have possession, I want a squad that is very, very intensive with the pressing. The two things are important for me to be protagonists – possession of the ball and pressing when you don’t have the ball.”
Gazidis spoke at length about the process that led to Emery’s appointment – the starting point of which, he said, was that “every coach in the world would be interested in this position. We believe there is not a position in world football that is more attractive than Arsenal football club.”
Gazidis, Sanllehí, and Mislintat drew up an eight-man shortlist, which is known to have included the Manchester City assistant coach, Mikel Arteta, and the Juventus manager, Max Allegri. “All of those eight people were interested in the position and all of those eight people took part in extensive, in-person interviews with us,” Gazidis said. “None of them at any stage withdrew their interest.”
The announcement that Wenger would step down at the end of the season after 22 years was made on 20 April and Gazidis said the interviews took place between 25 April and Tuesday of last week. The list was whittled down to three contenders and, at that point, Arteta was the favorite. Emery was interviewed on 10 May.
But, after a collective brainstorm, Gazidis said that last Friday he, Sanllehí and Mislintat unanimously agreed to recommend Emery to the board. He gave an illustration of the thoroughness when he said the formal recommendation was supported by a 100-page dossier that contained references, analysis, background information and videos of each of the three contenders in action on the sideline.
Gazidis added that trusted, external experts were brought in to offer “unprejudiced opinions” and that, until the very end, “Raúl, Sven and I spoke to each other as little as possible because we didn’t want to pollute each other’s viewpoints.”
Emery met with the London-based members of the club’s board on Monday before flying to Atlanta that night with Gazidis and Sanllehí to meet the majority shareholder, Stan Kroenke, and his son, Josh. They returned on the Tuesday night red-eye. “All of the board members were energized and enthusiastic about the recommendation and enthusiastically endorsed it,” Gazidis said.
Gazidis has restructured the club, particularly over the past season, and he could not have sounded more bullish about Arsenal’s prospects of success, even when it was put to him that Manchester United had struggled after the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson after 26 years. An overriding theme was Emery’s energy and the chemistry that Gazidis has felt with him.
“We have a big challenge ahead,” Gazidis said. “But I feel we can face it with confidence. We’ve done an awful lot of groundwork over a number of years. So there’s been some very, very dramatic changes across the club to try to prepare for this moment and to give Unai the support he will need.
“Everything in football is a risk. There are no such things as guarantees. That’s why it’s elite competition. But I have every confidence that we’ve done everything we can to give ourselves the best chance of success.”
He added: “I do think the new way of working, the new energy – it’s not a criticism of Arsène – I just think that change stimulates the environment and I think it’s going to be very positive.
“I could not possibly feel better about this appointment. And the feeling that myself and Unai have between each other – and we’ve spent a lot of time over the last few days together – is I feel better and better about it by the hour.”