Evidence of Unai Emery improving Arsenal since taking over from Arsene Wenger is becoming increasingly difficult to come by.
Perhaps inevitably, Emery’s failure to take the Gunners up a level has resulted in rumours about a possible change in the dugout. Some of the potential replacements are more newsworthy than others – and then there’s Jose Mourinho.
The very idea of Mourinho rocking up at the Emirates – in the same city he won two Premier League titles with Chelsea – is inherently strange. Although he has already clouded his love affair with Chelsea by taking over at another English club, Manchester United, the concept of Mourinho taking charge at Arsenal is somewhat unthinkable.
And yet, according to ESPN, Mourinho would be interested in moving to the Emirates were Emery to be relieved of his duties. It is believed Arsenal are not planning an immediate change, but the pressure on Emery is said to be building.
So, with that in mind, we’ve imagined a scenario in which Mourinho becomes Arsenal’s new manager. Who would benefit from his appointment? And who would suffer from it? Here are the key winners and losers.
Winner: Mesut Ozil
It’s safe to say Mourinho and Mesut Ozil had a complicated relationship during their time together at Real Madrid. The midfielder recounted a disagreement between the pair in his book, The Magic of the Game, in which Mourinho criticised Ozil in front of his teammates, calling him a coward.
Mesut Özil in LaLiga under Jose Mourinho:
313 chances created
138 successful crosses
19 goals pic.twitter.com/MLmmvRL0V3
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 20, 2017
Regardless of that incident, Ozil played some his best football under Mourinho, and there is a feeling they could get the best out of each other if reunited. Mourinho knows the talent Ozil possesses better than most, and although harsh, the example above shows he knows the former Germany international’s weaknesses.
If Mourinho reintroduced Ozil into the fold at the Emirates, we could see the 31-year-old recapture his best form in an Arsenal shirt.
Loser: David Luiz
Another player, another complicated relationship with Mourinho, who sanctioned the sale of David Luiz to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2014. After Luiz left, Mourinho said the defender would not be missed, to which Luiz replied: “If he would be saying that he would miss me, then he would actually contradict himself.”
Were he to become Arsenal boss, Mourinho may have to contradict himself again. Luiz was a key signing for Arsenal in the summer and is currently a guaranteed starter. With few other options, Mourinho would have to continue playing the Brazilian despite their past disagreements.
Of course, the pair might be on better terms now than they were then, but Mourinho hasn’t hesitated in criticising Luiz in the past, and things could easily blow up all over again.
Winners: Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi
One of Emery’s biggest issues, particularly this season, has been getting the balance right in central midfield. Captain Granit Xhaka has struggled and, like Emery, faces an uncertain future following his angry confrontation with a section of the support against Crystal Palace.
Lucas Torreira was linked with a return to Italy in the summer but has shown signs he should be a regular starter this term, while Matteo Guendouzi has been one of Arsenal’s standout players. It’s easy to imagine Mourinho going with a midfield partnership of Torreira and Guendouzi, who he could develop into a fearsome twosome in front of the backline.
Mourinho’s tactics require strong holding midfielders who also possess a certain degree of technical ability. At 23 and 20 years of age respectively, Torreira and Guendouzi have the potential to develop into ideal candidates for those roles under Mourinho.
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Loser: Arsene Wenger
Mourinho didn’t exactly get on with Arsene Wenger during their time in opposite dugouts. The hatchet was somewhat buried when Mourinho was involved in handing Wenger a commemorative award during his very last trip to Old Trafford, but the touchline battles and years-long war of words did not suddenly disappear.
If Wenger was at all involved in picking his successor at the Emirates in 2018, it’s hugely unlikely Mourinho’s name would have even been mentioned. So for the former Inter Milan coach to come in just 18 months after Wenger’s departure would be something of an insult to a club legend.
Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
On punditry duty for Sky Sports during Arsenal’s defeat at Liverpool earlier this season, Mourinho suggested Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would be an ideal option for the Merseysiders on the left – or, at least, he’d be more effective in that position for Liverpool than Arsenal.
“I think Aubameyang probably likes to play in the middle because he feels that he can score more goals,” Mourinho said. “But maybe he can score as many goals playing on the left.
“What happens in Liverpool, [Roberto] Firmino drops back, in between the lines. Then he gives more space for [Mohamed] Salah and [Sadio] Mane to attack these diagonals. I could see Aubameyang playing on that left-side for Liverpool and scoring a lot of goals. At Arsenal, [Alexandre] Lacazette doesn’t have that quality.”
By reading into these quotes, we shouldn’t conclude that Mourinho would play Aubameyang on the left for Arsenal. But it certainly sounds like Mourinho would prioritise getting the best out of Aubameyang, a proven goalscorer, something that every successful Mourinho team has possessed.
Loser: Unai Emery
Being replaced by Mourinho will be a blow to Emery’s reputation. The Spaniard built up a solid CV at Sevilla, winning the Europa League three times in a row which earned him a career step up to PSG. But having – in relative terms – failed in Paris and now possibly facing the sack at Arsenal, what’s next for Emery?
If Mourinho takes his job, in some ways it will mean Emery is not considered a coach on the same level as his usurper, and that could result in him having to take a job at a club one level lower than Arsenal. It’s almost as if Emery will have to start at square one all over again despite all of his hard work.