LONDON (AP) – Arsenal’s new head coach will have to overcome some problems that developed both on and off the field during the final part of Arsene Wenger’s long tenure.
Unai Emery, who was hired Wednesday to replace Wenger after 22 seasons in north London, will take over a club that finished sixth in the Premier League last season – its worst showing under the French coach.
But Emery has proven himself both in domestic soccer and in Europe, winning league titles at Paris Saint-Germain and the Europa League at Sevilla. Still, he was fired by PSG after failing to deliver Champions League success to the French club.
Here are some issues Emery must address at Arsenal:
The Arsenal teams that finished in the Premier League’s top two places for eight consecutive seasons at the turn of the millennium was packed with leaders, including players like Patrick Vieira and Tony Adams. Following a third and final title-winning campaign under Wenger in 2004, the squad gradually lost its experienced core.
Emery will look to fill that void and consider the character – as well as the quality – of the players he brings in this offseason.
Arsenal already needed a new central defender, and that was before captain Laurent Koscielny ruptured his Achilles tendon in the final weeks of the season.
With the France defender set to be out until the end of 2018, Emery may be in the market for two new center backs.
Arsenal conceded only five fewer Premier League goals than Swansea and West Bromwich Albion, who were both relegated.
Shkodran Mustafi has also struggled, and while there is still hope that the youthful duo of Rob Holding and Calum Chambers can develop into first-team regulars, the pair have yet to prove they are ready.
One of the reasons Arsenal’s defenders have been so often exposed is the lack of protection in front of them.
During Wenger’s final two seasons in charge, he insisted on playing Granit Xhaka in a holding role, despite the Switzerland midfielder’s defensive frailties.
While Xhaka certainly has the ability to be a useful player, Emery will be looking to recruit someone with more discipline to sit at the base of his midfield.
On paper, the strongest part of Arsenal’s squad is up front. Strikers Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both joined the club over the past 12 months for a combined total of more than 100 million pounds ($133 million).
After arriving last year, Lacazette had a mixed first Premier League campaign and was in and out of the starting lineup, eventually scoring 14 goals. Aubameyang settled in quickly after his mid-season arrival and netted an impressive 10 goals in 13 appearances. However, there was still a feeling that Arsenal wasn’t fully utilizing all of the Gabon forward’s assets, particularly his blistering pace.
Emery will attempt to avoid alienating either of the club’s major investments by finding a way to incorporate two of his most talented players into the starting lineup.
A toxic atmosphere has surrounded the club in recent seasons, mainly because of fan opposition to Wenger.
This discontent was even felt in the team, highlighted by a divide between Alexis Sanchez and his teammates before the Chile forward departed for Manchester United.
Emery is likely to benefit from a warm welcome from the club’s fan base, but maintaining unity, both on and off the field, will be high on his list of priorities.