LONDON – There's another managerial vacancy at a north London club in the English Premier League, this time at Arsenal.
Unai Emery was fired on Friday after 18 months as the successor to long-time coach Arsene Wenger, with Arsenal on its worst run of results in 27 years. The Spaniard arrived at training the morning after a 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League and was told by the club’s top officials that he’d lost his job.
Arsenal is without a victory in seven straight matches in all competitions and has dropped to eighth place in the Premier League, already eight points off the fourth and final Champions League qualification position after just 13 games. It’s the club’s longest winless run since 1992.
“The decision has been taken due to results and performances not being at the level required,” Arsenal said in a statement.
Assistant coach Freddie Ljungberg was taking interim control.
Only 10 days ago, Tottenham — Arsenal’s fierce rival in north London — fired its coach Mauricio Pochettino and quickly replaced him with Jose Mourinho, who has won his first two games in charge.
Arsenal will be hoping for a similar bounce under Ljungberg as the board searches for a permanent manager, with Wolverhampton’s Nuno Espirito Santo heavily linked with the vacancy along with former Arsenal midfielder Mikel Arteta, an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Former Juventus and AC Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri, who is out of work, is another option.
Emery’s position appeared untenable after the loss to Eintracht in front of a sparse and disgruntled crowd at Emirates Stadium, with some fans holding up signs calling for the manager to leave.
It proved to be a shambolic end to his tenure, with concerns over his ability to communicate with players — reports say he was openly mocked by the squad and some club employees because of his broken English — and more importantly his tactics.
Arsenal had a distinctive, easy-on-the-eye approach under Wenger, which was cultivated over the Frenchman’s remarkable 22-year stint, but Emery's team had no discernible style even though he stated his intention to adopt a high-energy, pressing game upon his arrival in the offseason of 2018.
Crucially, he never managed to shore up Arsenal's defense — wobbly in the final years of Wenger's reign — and didn't seem to know how to handle playmaker Mesut Ozil, the team’s highest-paid player who was repeatedly dropped but curiously recalled in Emery’s final games.
Emery removed the captaincy from Granit Xhaka this month after the midfielder swore at fans while being substituted during the Oct. 27 draw against Crystal Palace in the league. Xhaka later said he and his family had been subjected to abuse and threats on social media.
Emery arrived at Arsenal after leaving Paris Saint-Germain, where he won the French title but couldn’t deliver the European success the Qatari-owned club craves. Before that, he won three Europa League titles with Sevilla.
After losing the first two games of his reign, to Chelsea and Manchester City in the Premier League, Emery’s Arsenal went on a 22-game unbeaten run in all competitions and was scoring plenty of goals. However, that consistency disappeared in the final games of the season, as Arsenal finished fifth in the league and lost to Chelsea in an all-English final of the Europa League.
This season, Arsenal lost only two of its first 17 games in all competitions but cracks began to show in the last two months, culminating in a dreadful display in a 2-2 draw at home to Southampton last weekend — when an injury-time goal was needed to secure a scarcely deserved point — and then the defeat to Eintracht.
Upheaval behind the scenes at a club owned by American businessman Stan Kroenke likely didn’t help Emery’s position, either. Two of the men who made the decision to appoint Emery — chief executive Ivan Gazidis and head of recruitment Sven Mislintat — departed within nine months, leaving the Spaniard more exposed to change.
Ljungberg, the former Sweden international who played for Arsenal from 1998-2007 and was part of the “Invincibles” team that went through the 2003-04 league season unbeaten, took Friday’s training session in place of Emery ahead of his first game in charge, away at Norwich on Sunday.
“However long I oversee (at)Arsenal for I will give everything I have to put smiles on faces again,” Ljungberg wrote on Twitter, perhaps alluding to the current mood around the club's London Colney training ground.
“We have a busy few weeks ahead and the team needs your support. Let’s get to work!”
Emery is the third Premier League manager to depart this season, after Pochettino and Watford’s Javi Gracia.
AP Sports Writer James Ellingworth contributed to this report
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80