Vinai Venkatesham and Raul Sanllehi say they are very pleased with Unai Emery’s debut season at Arsenal even though the club missed out on automatic qualification for the Champions League in the final weeks of the season.
The Gunners looked well-placed to nab fourth place in the table before an ill-timed four-game winless run upset momentum and saw us drop to fifth. On the plus side, hope lives on in the Europa League with the club currently preparing for a first European final since 2006.
Beat Chelsea in Baku on 29 May and Emery will have achieved his aim for the season and, in the process, should secure himself a bigger transfer budget with which to continue reshaping the first team squad.
Reflecting on the Spaniard’s first year at the Emirates and the change in operational structure, managing director Venkatesham told Arsenal.com, “This has been a season dominated by change. We’ve gone from 22 years with Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery. But it’s been more than a change of the individual, it’s been a change of our model.
“We’ve moved from a traditional football model of having a manager with a broad set of responsibilities to Unai being the head coach with a more controlled and narrow set of responsibilities surrounded by relevant experts.
“We’ve had Per Mertesacker taking over the Academy and Ivan Gazidis leaving us for AC Milan and Raul and myself stepping up into our new roles. There’s been lots of change.
“Within that change we’ve set objectives for the season. If you boiled it down to two objectives, they would be, one – to successfully integrate Unai and his coaching staff into Arsenal and the second, as challenging as we knew it would be, to qualify for the Champions League.
“If you assess our season against those two objectives, with Unai the best way to assess that [is to ask], if we went back in time, would we make the same decision?
“I can say, absolutely, 100%, categorically, we would have appointed Unai again. We’re really pleased with the impact he’s having at Arsenal and we’re delighted with his appointment.
“With the Champions League, obviously the primary way to get there is through your league performance. All of us at Arsenal, Unai, ourselves, the players, the staff were naturally really disappointed that we didn’t quite make it into the top four places.
“I guess, you can reflect on that in one of two ways. You can either look back with a half glass empty at some of the missed opportunities that we had along the way to get the few points we needed. Or you can look at it, half glass full, that we were incredibly close to getting there. The reality is we didn’t get there, so we’re very disappointed.
“We’ve got plenty to look forward to, including a European final which gives us the chance to win a European trophy and the chance to get back in the Champions League. Everyone here at Arsenal is hugely focused on that game in Baku and giving ourselves the best chance to be successful. We’re feeling very confident about the game.”
Raul Sanllehi went on to add, “We were very careful, the moment was very important. Arsene Wenger’s shadow was huge. We have the highest respect and appreciation for him and all the things he did. Arsenal would not be where it is without that manager and the great things he did.
“Coming after that big legend was a challenge. When we were looking at different options, analysing the possible candidates to become our head coach, we defined a series of dimensions they had to cover. The way we play football, looking at youngsters, developing players, tactics etc.
“Another thing we were looking for was courage. It had to be somebody with big courage, big passion to take that challenge and do it properly. Unai has achieved that. He’s a man of courage, a man of passion and he’s been demonstrating that over the whole season.
“We knew that already, but you never know that completely until the person gets into the job. I think from the first day he’s been proving this and all through the season with the players, with the fans, with us, with the staff, so yes, I agree with Vinai, if we had to do it again, we’d do it the same way.”