The Gunners boss is under huge pressure and defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League could spell the end of his Arsenal tenure
Unai Emery was stood on his own in the centre of one of London Colney’s finely manicured training pitches, clipboard grasped firmly in hand, without a single member of Arsenal’s playing squad or coaching staff within 20 metres of him.
It was a picture that painted a thousand words. The Spaniard, seemingly without a friend in the world, had the air of lonely man who was waiting to be put out of his misery.
There was a time during the early stages of Emery’s reign when London Colney was a place full of smiles, when the sound of laughter and players enjoying themselves filled the air. But things now feel different.
As is the way before European games, the world’s media were allowed to gather at Arsenal’s training centre on Wednesday morning to cast their gaze over the first 15 minutes of the Gunners’ final session before Thursday night’s meeting with Eintracht Frankfurt.
Usually these brief glimpses behind the scenes don’t tell you too much, but this time it was impossible to watch what was going on and not come away with the impression that Arsenal is currently a club which is stuck in purgatory.
Emery’s time is clearly up and it looked like he was well aware of that fact as he wondered around, appearing far more interested in moving cones and putting mannequins in place than he was interacting with his players.
It was a telling glimpse into the struggles he has faced building a rapport with a squad which is now clearly not playing for their beleaguered head-coach.
As he always does, he waited for the players to emerge at the start of the session to shake their hands individually. Although, it was interesting to note that the one player who did not receive or seek a handshake was Granit Xhaka.
But from that moment onwards, Emery’s focus turned away from his squad and centred on doing the jobs you would expect the lower ranking members of his coaching staff to have been doing.
In an era when man-management skills are key to a coach’s success, Emery’s insistence on focusing on the minute details make it extremely difficult for him to strike up relationships on anything but a professional level.
At Liverpool and Manchester City you sense that the players would run through brick walls for Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola, whereas at Arsenal it is the complete opposite.
Despite being in place for more than 18 months now – Emery has failed to build up any sort of bond with his players. There is no loyalty there, none of them will shed a tear if he is replaced. And the same goes for the majority of those who work around the club.
Goal has been told that the atmosphere at Arsenal during the past few weeks has been so tense that it has in fact become uncomfortable to be around.
There is now an acceptance amid staff that Emery will be replaced and that it is now just a matter of time before the news is announced.
And the body language we saw from the Spaniard on Wednesday suggests he knows that time is almost up. The disconnect between the coach and the squad was striking.
It was noticeable that during the press conference which followed the training session, Shkodran Mustafi failed to give his backing the Emery – even though he was sat next to the 48-year-old.
When asked specifically whether the team would be looking to put in a performance against Frankfurt to ease the pressure on Emery, the German defender replied: “First of all we play for the club.
“We play for each other because we are a team, the boys in the dressing room and the coaching staff are all in the same boat. If the coach is under pressure, the players are too.”
It was hardly the unequivocal backing you would expect, although perhaps not surprising when you consider Emery publicly stated just a couple of months ago that it would be better for Mustafi that he left the club.
This really does feel like the end of days for Arsenal’s head coach now. When it was his turn to answer questions from the press, the defiant Emery we had seen just a few weeks ago had been replaced by a man who looked drained and tired.
Questions about his future were batted away.
“My future is today and tomorrow,” he said, when asked about reports that Arsenal had started to sound out potential replacements.
“My job is to prepare for the match. We are playing at home with our supporters so we want to transmit our energy, our game plan and everything we work on here at the training ground. Those are my only thoughts.”
But the words lacked the passion and fight that we had seen in abundance from Emery in previous press conferences.
He is now in the last chance saloon. Six games without a win have left him on the brink and another poor result on Thursday night may spell the end of his time in north London.
Emery was appointed due to his impressive record in the Europa League, it would be somewhat ironic should defeat in the competition in which he made his name prove to be the final nail in his Arsenal coffin.