Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta will forever have his predecessor Unai Emery to thank despite the last of his flops leaving the club. Nicolas Pepe has finally completed a move away from the Emirates but the Gunners should be grateful for the acquisitions of William Saliba and Gabriel Martinelli.
Emery had the hugely unenviable task of having to replace Arsene Wenger, despite the Frenchman’s 22-year tenure ending not exactly how he would have wanted. The Spanish coach got Arsenal playing an attractive style of football and came close to finishing in the top four in his first season in charge.
But the way Arsenal capitulated at the end of that campaign, including the the 4-1 humbling by Chelsea in the Europa League final, saw many fans question his suitability for the role. A poor start to his second season eventually saw him sacked in November 2019.
Emery made 12 signings during his 18 months in charge. In truth, eight of them have to be considered as flops.
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Kieran Tierney and Bernd Leno have escaped that tag after a good few seasons a first-team regulars. But former club-record signing Pepe, despite a half-decent record statistically, is definitely in that category.
He is the eighth and final Emery flop to have left after completing a move to Turkish side Trabzonspor. Pepe was never able to live up to his £72million price tag despite being given every chance in his first three seasons in England.
But even though two-thirds of Emery’s signings were failures, the deals for Saliba and Martinelli have proven to be masterstrokes. Saliba joined Arsenal from Saint-Etienne in 2019 for a fee of £27m.
The price looked high for an 18-year-old defender who was relatively unknown in the European game. He didn’t play a single minute under Emery, as he headed straight out on loan and returned to Arsenal with Arteta as his manager.
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But after finally being given his chance at the start of last season, the Gunners and Emery have been proven right to splash out as much as they did on him four years ago. Saliba is now one of the top central defenders in the Premier League and he shows calmness at the back beyond his relative lack of top-flight experience.
Martinelli joined Arsenal in the same window as Saliba. He has come down a different path having been thrust straight into the limelight by Emery.
The Brazilian’s early flourishings were as a central striker in the League Cup and Europa League, where he grabbed braces against Nottingham Forest and Standard Liege. Martinelli has overcome injury problems and lack of form to establish himself as a nailed-on starter for Arteta.
There is no doubt that Emery’s time at Arsenal will overall be seen as a failure. But gratitude should always be there for bringing in two players who could go down as true club legends in years to come.
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