Arsenal home invincibility igniting their success
Background photograph: Will_how CC BY-3.0
Sacked managers are a common sight leaving most clubs. For more than two decades, Arsenal was different. The Gunners stuck with Arsene Wenger for 22 years. Long after the need for a fresh face, Unai Emery finally arrived.
Fans, the board, even the players all anticipate an immediate effect from a new man. If the desired changes don't come, someone else will. Real Madrid sacked two managers in the nine months between Zinedine Zidane's departure and return. Despite their lack of practise, early returns suggest Arsenal made the correct choice.
It hasn't been all sunny days. Emery lost his first two opening games to Manchester City and Chelsea. Eyebrows were raised. Critics had opinions. A 22-game unbeaten run shut them down. When Crystal Palace ended the run and the Gunners didn't get right back on their horses, dropping out of the top four, the naysayers returned. Mesut Ozil's exile from the starting XI fueled doubts.
Emery knows his priorities. He needs to finish in the top-four and chase the Club's first ever European trophy. To achieve such feats, resilience and determination are required. Champions are forged from those qualities. It's not an overnight process.
The best place to start, however, is home. Under Wenger, visitors enjoyed their visits to the Emirates. Ask Sir Alex Ferguson. Ask Troy Deeney. The Spaniard changed that. The last ten opponents in all competitions went home emptyhanded and chastened. Chelsea beat Arsenal to begin the beginning. Manchester United sent the Gunners out of the FA Cup. Both found their hopes dashed when they stepped on the Gunners' turf. Two-nil victories over both settled scores.
Strength at home paid off in the Europa League too. BATE Borisov visited North London with a goal advantage at the Round of 32. A three-goal thriller fired Arsenal into the Round of 16. They fell behind 3-1 in France to Stade Rennais. Two goals and a clean sheet at home turned the tables and put Arsenal into the quarterfinals. Under Arsene Wenger, such results were less likely. Despite pushing through on aggregate in 2017/18, the Frenchman's squad lost at home to Graham Potter's Ostersunds.
Napoli visits the Emirates next week for the first leg in the final eight. Carlo Ancelotti may think he knows Arsenal from his time at Chelsea and Unai Emery after their Champions League group stage meeting when the Italian ramrodded Bayern. He might find himself making hasty adjustments at half-time.
For the moment, Arsenal sit third in the Premier League. Only three points separate them from United in sixth. Any dropped points mean a drop in the table. Emery's accomplished the easier half of his task, making the Gunners a formidable home side. Now it's time to take that act on the road, not only at the domestic level but in the Europa League as well. The second leg against Ancelotti's Napoli at the San Paolo will be no picnic.
Regardless, the Spaniard has something to build on, a fact Gunners faithful couldn't claim in Wenger's final seasons.