The success of football manager's first seasons are dictated by the quality of the squad that they inherit, hopefully an excellent one. If they are also in the fortunate position of of joining a club with financial muscle that is applied to the market, they are doubly lucky.
Look at Arsene Wenger. On taking over at Arsenal in 1995, he inherited a a world class goalkeeper and at the time, the best back four in the country and possibly Europe. He also inherited Denis Bergkamp and Ian Wright. Such was the excellent relationship he had in place with David Dein, he was able to add Marc Overmars, Nicolas Anelka and critically, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit. In a matter of months, his first great team was in place.
Although Unai Emery inherited some top class footballers, he was also the beneficiary of the defensive fragility that Wenger left in place. A defence short on confidence, durability and frankly, good old fashioned nous.
Despite a stumbling start to his career, Emery's team put together a 20 match unbeaten run. This was impressive but admittedly, also involved some luck and a favourable sequence of games. Nevertheless, the Arsenal were drawing games they would have lost and winning games they would have previously have drawn. The came a disappointing set of results and performances and it seemed the team was slipping into the bad old days, defensive uncertainty, overplaying when a more direct pass was better.
However, we hear from "those in the know", that the apparently tireless work Emery and his coaches are putting in on the training ground at London Colney are bearing fruit. Certainly, the league performances against Spurs and Chelsea were excellent and showed a clear understanding of the new manager's principles of moving the ball quickly, pressing high up the pitch and condensing play when not in possession of the ball. I feel that it was particularly frustrating to lose Bellerin and Holding for the rest of the season, both young intelligent footballers with the intellectual furniture to absorb and put into practice Emery's ideas.
Arsenal under Emery is a steadily improving picture. He needs time and trust from the board, squad and supporters. The third category is notoriously brittle but there are sufficient numbers of seasoned fans who have seen this and been here before. George Graham needed time and patience, as did Wenger, they both got it from the key stakeholders, Emery should too.
Of course, the underlying context is that Arsenal compete with clubs in England and Europe, owned by individuals who back their managers financially and with significant intent. It is highly unlikely that Emery will benefit from the same strategic investment and generosity. Casual analysis of the Arsenal squad points to the necessity for at least £100 million to build a squad and team that can challenge for the title. That this won't happen is not Emery's fault.
He is a good man and possibly, a superb coach and a winner. Although the process is taking time, let's back him.
By Ian Byrne