Unai Emery v Manuel Pellegrini: Old La Liga rivals seek to overcome new obstacles

Andy Dillon by Andy Dillon / 24 August 2018, 13:19

ARSENAL were one of the pioneers of the ‘honours board’ stretching around the waistband of their glossy Emirates Stadium.

For a club relying on past glories to cling onto its seat at football’s top table it was a typically astute marketing idea.

Honours boards have become a topic of debate this week with West Ham launching legal action against the landlords at their controversial London Stadium over the placing of a sign depicting their trophies from down the years.

West Ham’s last major triumph was the 1980 FA Cup Final when they were in the old Second Division. That day in May they produced a major shock by beating Arsenal and preventing their illustrious North London neighbours from successfully defending the trophy.

The two teams meet this weekend both in a severe state of flux. The arguing over the reinstating of West Ham’s honours list is far more symbolic than you might think.

While dripping with glory from yesteryear, back in 1980 Arsenal had not won the league title in nine seasons. They wouldn’t do so again for a further nine.

Since the Double in 1971, The FA Cup had been the only source of silverware to give the supporters something to cheer.

Unai Emery has inherited a team in much the same state as Terry Neill’s back in the dawn of the 80s when mobile phones were years away and oven chips were all the rage not micro chips.

Pat Rice was the firmly established Arsenal captain - no questions asked. And while they weren’t winning much, The Gunners were guaranteed to put up a fight wherever they played.

Now we have incoming manager Emery admitting he is looking for five captains for his team. And one of them is Mesut Ozil, a player condemned this week as a living symbol of the problems of Arsenal’s mental frailties, not the solution.

Another former Gunners skipper Tony Adams has been so blunt as to suggest Ozil needs a ‘kicking’ to sort himself out.

Apparently, it worked with Dennis Bergkamp in the 90s when Steve Bould got stuck in and there’s no reason why a few stray boots up the backside in training wouldn’t do the trick again with Ozil, he says.

It’s a quaint, curious, probably downright wrong theory in this day and age. Advocating physical bullying in the workplace is outdated at best and illegal at worst.

But the bigger problem is that there is nobody at Arsenal left to do the kicking. Bould is now assistant coach at the club but to have management booting the playing staff is an HR nightmare.

Then go through the squad and see if you can find a figure like Bould, who would be mentally equipped to go through a team-mate in training to toughen them up.

This is modern Arsenal. There hasn’t been a Bould or Adams figurehead at the club for years and it’s not changing anytime soon.

Whether Emery feels the need to employ an enforcer in the mould of an old-fashioned bruising centre half like Bould and Adams were is doubtful. There’s been no evidence of it yet in the two defeats suffered in the first two Premier League games.

At Chelsea last week there was a 15 minute spell when they fought back from 2-0 down to 2-2. But it was all firmly within the rules of fair play. Nobody in red looked capable of leaving a foot or a fist in to try to rattle Chelsea and shake up the opposition.

West Ham’s battle to find someone with a hammer and four small nails to put their honours board back up merely highlights the challenges facing new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

The Hammers were never any good at winning league titles. They have never done it before and it’s an even more distant prospect now.

Last season they surrendered an insipid League Cup quarter final to Arsenal in a half-hearted 1-0 defeat with barely a shot on goal let alone on target.

An FA Cup last eight place is the best they have done since reaching (and losing) the final against Liverpool 12 years ago.

Pellegrini is going to choose a stand-in captain this weekend for the Arsenal match because Mark Noble is injured.

He has seven new players to try to settle into the club and the best he can hope for is to stay in the Premier League this season if recent history is anything to go by.

Two managers, two clubs of vastly differing size coming at the same obstacle of making a name for themselves again from different directions.

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