Premier League 2018/19: Unai Emery can bring success to Arsenal as life after Arsene Wenger begins

The Spaniard has inherited an exciting attacking line-up, and has added midfield and defensive reinforcements that should make the club a top four contender again

Arsenal's manager Unai Emery gestures during the International Champions Cup match between Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain in Singapore, Saturday, July 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
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Back in August 1996 as the countdown to the new Premier League season began, it was a feel-good time in England.

The national team had reached the semi-finals of the European Championships on home soil before losing on penalty in Germany.

It would be the last time, until this summer with the success at the World Cup in Russia, that England would get that far at a major tournament.

The other thing linking 1996 and 2018 was that 22 years ago was the last time that Arsenal were going into a campaign without Arsene Wenger in charge.

Wenger would take charge of his first game in September after Bruce Rioch had been dismissed five days before the season was due to start after falling out with the club's board of directors.

Fast forward to now and Unai Emery, the man challenged with the task of stepping into Wenger's shoes after the Frenchman chose to step down at the end of last season, has had a rather more stable build-up ahead of the opening game against champions Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on August 12.


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It is a step into the unknown for both the Spaniard, who is managing in England for the first time, and for his employers who are adapting to a new man at the helm for the first time in more than two decades.

Manchester United were in a similar situation five years ago when Alex Ferguson stepped down after 26 years in charge and the example learnt there was that you really do not want to be the one following the person who has enjoyed a dynasty of success.

David Moyes will attest to that after his awful tenure at United succeeding Ferguson.

But, all the signs point to Emery and Arsenal not repeating that.

For starters, Ferguson left on a high with United as champions. Wenger departed with Arsenal finishing a distant sixth last year, 37 points behind City and 12 adrift of the top four so expectations are not high, or certainly should not be.

But, Wenger has arguably left Emery set up strongly, well better than Ferguson did in hindsight with an ageing squad for Moyes, for the season ahead.

Emery inherits arguably Arsenal's most impressive forward line in years. In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, signed in January from Borussia Dortmund, the club have their best natural goalscorer to lead the line since Robin van Persie.

Nine goals in the final 10 league games of last season showed what he can do, and a partnership with Alexandre Lacazette has real potential.

Then there are the enigmas in Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Both capable of brilliance, but equally likely to disappear from view.

Arsenal may end up being the unwitting beneficiaries of Ozil's miserable summer with Germany at the World Cup, the midfielder now free of international duty with a point to prove and his club side the only place to do it.

Emery and Arsenal have done business to strengthen in the areas that were clearly weak under Wenger.

Lucas Torreira has been brought in to add bite to the midfield, while Socratis Papastathopoulos and Stefan Lichtsteiner have been recruited to tighten up a defence that conceded 13 more then anyone else in the top six last season.

Arsenal were regressing under Wenger but were not awful. A semi-final spot in the Europa League, pushing eventual runners-up Atletico Madrid, highlighted that.

In Aubameyang, Lacazette, Ozil, Mkhitaryan, Danny Welbeck, Aaron Ramsey, Laurent Koscielny, Hector Bellerin and Petr Cech there is the nucleus of a decent side.

Emery's challenge is to add steel to the side and turn the defeats on bad days at the office into draws, and stalemates into victories.

Wretched away form, that saw only four wins in 19 games, was why Arsenal were so far adrift of the rest of the top six.

The latter day Arsenal under Wenger became synonymous with being a soft touch, a theory backed up by Stoke City, Watford, Bournemouth, Swansea City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United all triumphing over them last season.

Arsenal finished third in Wenger's first season and Emery would certainly love to replicate that finish.

The man who guided Paris Saint-Germain to the title last season has not been given the kindest of starts with City at home and Chelsea away to start things.

But, with the raw materials available to him, Emery should be able to get Arsenal closer to the top four again, or possibly in it.

It is 14 years since Arsenal last won the league. Only the most rabid fan would expect instant success from Emery.

Signs of progression and evidence life after Wenger is not a scary prospect would suffice for most at Arsenal.