“The leader’s always by himself in a time of doom.” – The Final Days of Unai Emery.


Emery speaks to his Players (Credit: Getty Images)

This piece is part of a soon to be released work on Unai Emery.

To borrow a quote from the intimidating Mike Tyson in Dark Trade, “The leader’s always by himself in a time of doom.” As was Unai Emery.

In his final match as Arsenal manager, fans held signs calling for change, “EMERY OUT – No Tactics. No Formation. Nowhere to hide.” Winless in his last seven games, where did Emery see it all go wrong?

Interviewed by Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague, Emery disclosed everything. “The game against Sheffield United was a bit of a turning point,” he said on the journalist’s YouTube channel.

“In one month everything got broken and we were incapable of winning a game in seven. The tension – which was based on the question we were asking of ‘what’s happening to us?’ – was like a rolling ball that was just getting bigger and bigger.”

“The coach is the first person to come into the spotlight, I have lived this at other clubs but I have managed to conquer it by getting the team back on track.”

“But the truth is that month at Arsenal was terrible.”

In the Europa League group stage, Arsenal struggled immediately after the Sheffield United result. Vitória de Guimarães, their Portuguese opponents, spelled the beginning of the end.

Vitória scored two quickfire goals, as they raced to a surprising 2-1 halftime lead. Boos rang around the Emirates Stadium at halftime. Splashed in blue, a banner displaying “Emery Out”, was captured by the cameras.

Nicolas Pépé was substituted on, and scored two freekicks within the final ten minutes of the match in a dramatic turn around. A late comeback meant Arsenal won 3-2. Nevertheless, it felt an underserved victory. Emery’s job had been saved, no one more aware of this than himself.

Bailed out, his lack of celebration for either of Pépé’s goals was apparent.

Pressure began to build on Emery, as José Mourinho was spotted in attendance for the match. Rumours spread like wildfire, speculating he had dined with Arsenal’s hierarchy, and it was only a matter of time before Emery was sacked.

His future became a big discussion. Like Wenger before him, fans were divided on Emery. Many had already turned on him, as his Arsenal had become a chaotic mess.

“I know I can do better,” were his words after a stalemate against Southampton. A series of losses and draws after the Sheffield United defeat, left Arsenal without a win in six matches.

Lacazette had scored an added time equaliser against Southampton, but his lack of smile or joy, summed up the mood around the club. Muted celebrations signalled how Emery had lost the team. Boos rained down on the Emirates, the fanbase’s support also absent.


Emery’s final game arrived against Eintracht Frankfurt. Two-thirds of the deserted Emirates stadium was empty on the night, a sour end indeed.

Charles Watts, an Arsenal correspondent for Football News site Goal, tweeted, “Yep, no doubt about it. This is the lowest crowd that has ever been in this place for a first-team game. It is empty. 20,000 max.”

Even the away section was abandoned, courtesy of a UEFA ban placed upon Eintracht Frankfurt supporters.

Midway through the match, Emery was instructed to change his jacket in order to comply with UEFA regulations. An incident which summarised how everything had turned ugly for him. Uglier still, was Arsenal’s complete lack of desire or fight.

Emery appeared a defeated figure on the touchline, incapable of turning the tide. Martin Keown, a pundit for the match, had a great deal to say. “Maybe he has taken the team as far as he can,” Keown appropriately suggested.

“We just witnessed an absolute shambles of a performance. The team motivation, the team selection, the performance, the subs, it was dreadful.”

“He seems to have lost the players. The desire has ebbed away. The subs he made – you’ve got Pepe and Lacazette sitting on the bench when you’re trying to get back into the game. Emery might even feel he needs to step aside now. Change was needed under Wenger but now it looks like the club need to go in another direction again. This is relegation form.”

Unai Emery was sacked in late November.

Unaware his eighteen-month spell at the club would draw to a close, Emery arrived for training, as he was accustomed to. His preparation for Arsenal’s next match, did not get underway. Instead, he was called into a meeting, and informed of Arsenal’s decision.

The official club announcement stated, “The decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required.”

Emery said goodbye to each player, not as a collective, but individually. Prominent football journalist Guillem Balague, discussed the finer details with Emery, who mentioned, “And they all came, apart from Lucas Torreira. He couldn’t make it but left us a message.”

“He was receiving a massage at that moment but all the players came. I also got messages from Koscielny and from Welbeck and I thank them all. But now is the time to go home.”

David Luiz admitted in a public tweet, the players had let Emery down, as did Emiliano Martínez. “I’m sorry we let you down, it’s our fault for not performing the right way,” Martínez tweeted.

Bernd Leno was later quoted as saying, “The mentality out on the pitch, I don’t want to say it was a mess, but it was a bit confusing. Everyone was doing different things. We were not a team. Not in the dressing room, not on the pitch and you could see that.”

Hammered by the media and fans who screamed for his sacking, Emery has regrets over the way his time in London ended.

One line in his letter of thanks to Arsenal, reads: “I would have liked nothing more than to have achieved better results for you.”

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2 Responses to “The leader’s always by himself in a time of doom.” – The Final Days of Unai Emery.

  1. Norms March 5, 2021 at 12:27 pm #

    Sad really….. a nice man and I was sorry to see him go like that. In footballing terms he had failed, but as a person he deserved better.
    Where did it all go wrong? Who really knows.
    Possibly his inability to express himself clearly in English……or his inability to relate to the players…..or being forced to buy Pepe when he wanted Zaha affected his confidence in the support for him by the club’s management and directors. He was right of course, but that was just another nail in his coffin.
    One can name a host of mistakes both by Emery and the club…..even to actually appointing him, To follow Arsene Wenger the club needed a successor with his own aura, a strong character of proven ability….. and that wasn’t Emery.

    • Raphael dF March 6, 2021 at 6:57 am #

      I’m in full agreement with you! The way he went out, he did deserve better. You could argue things should never have reached that point, but I do believe there are a number of factors related to why things went wrong for Emery. There is no one answer. Communication was a big reason as you pointed out, not getting the players he wanted in, like the Zaha/Pepe situation, not being backed in January transfer window (Denis Suarez loan for example) among other decisions of his such as the Xhaka captaincy situation and then were factors out of his control (Cech, Welbeck, Ramsey, Monreal, Laurent Koscielny all leaving – experienced leaders in dressing room).

      Wenger’s successor was always going to be difficult. Even in hindsight, who should they have appointed? Perhaps Arteta was not ready for the job back then, unlike how he was 18 months later.

      Thankyou for the comment! Do keep an eye out for my upcoming piece on Unai Emery, it explores Emery’s entire stint at the club. There’s not a defined release date right now – but sometime in the next month!

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