In an expansive interview with Chris Wheatley of football.london, former Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has said that he is grateful for his experience at Arsenal and has positive memories of his first season at the club.
The Spaniard succeeded legendary former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in the summer of 2018. He made a great start to life as the Gunners boss which saw the club go on a 22-game unbeaten run and put them in the mix for a place in the Premier League’s top four. The current Villareal head coach led the North London club to the Europa League final after navigating their way past the likes of Napoli and Valencia.
For a majority of his debut season at the club, Emery impressed a majority of Arsenal fans and seemed to be building an exciting project in North London. At one point in the 2018/19 campaign, the Gunners seemed a certainty for a Champions League place but their form towards the end of the season was dreadful and saw them go on a seven-game winless streak.
They lost games against Wolves, Leicester and Crystal Palace and this lead to Chelsea and Spurs finishing ahead of them and condemning them to a place in the following season’s Europa League. They had one more shot at securing a place in European football’s most elite competition when they faced Chelsea in the Europa League final but were outdone and outfought by their London rivals and lost the game 4-1.
The summer transfer window on the back of a bittersweet season caused Gooners to be full of optimism ahead of the 2019/20 campaign. Arsenal broke their transfer record to sign Nicolas Pepe from Lille for £72 million. They also signed David Luiz from Chelsea, Kieran Tierney from Celtic, Dani Ceballos on loan from Real Madrid, William Saliba from Saint-Etienne who was then loaned back to the French side and Gabriel Martinelli from Ituano.
The North London club’s form in the first few months of the 2019/20 season was woeful and Emery was under immense pressure. He was unable to turn the club’s fortunes around and eventually paid the ultimate price for his side’s poor results and performances which saw him sacked in November.
He is now in charge of La Liga side Villareal with whom he recently went on a 19-game unbeaten streak which is a club record. His side currently sit fourth in La Liga and the former Valencia boss is gaining plaudits for his side’s strong showing so far this season.
On his time at Arsenal, Emery said:
“I was in Arsenal for a year and a half and the first year I think was a very good season.”
“We achieved the Europa League final, we were at the last moment with the possibility to be in the top four and I think last year when I was there we recovered a lot of confidence for the club and the fans and for the players and I think we finished well that season.”
“I was very happy, enjoying it and working very well. The club supported me and I was happy with the players, the atmosphere and the supporters – only the second six months of the second year when I finished in November I think we made some decisions not good for the club, but not for me, the decisions of the club.”
“When the results were a little bit bad the situation changed but my first year in Arsenal I remember a lot of positive things, on the sidelines the same. I enjoyed being a coach of Arsenal and I’m very grateful for that moment I had in Arsenal.”
“For me it’s not negative, it was a positive experience and after I left the club the first month was not easy for me because I was running out of things [to do] but now I am very grateful to the owners, the club, the supporters, the players, the workers in Colney. I now only remember the very good things there and the first year for me was a very good performance for us.”
“I worked well with Mr Kroenke, Raul [Sanllehi], [Ivan] Gazidis during the first months there. The results towards the end were the main problem but for me it was a positive experience and I’m grateful to Arsenal for the opportunity.”
“This is football. Now I want the best for Arsenal and Mikel Arteta, the supporters and everyone at the club.”
Emery was criticised by members of the press and Arsenal fans for his communication skills and what was perceived to be a poor command of the English language. On his communication skills, he said:
“The problem in Arsenal the second year was only the results, not the language.”
“I could speak English and communicate in my press conferences, with the players. The message was not perfect but it was good and little by little I was progressing. If I continued at Arsenal I would have got better, of course.”
“I respected the likes of John Toshack and Howard Kendall when they came to Spain. They tried to learn Spanish and didn’t speak particularly good but the communication was enough.”
“I think in England there are people who respect me rather than speaking about my English, but my English wasn’t the problem in London or communicating with the players or media.”
One player who struggled during Emery’s time at the club was Mesut Ozil. There were reports that the former Real Madrid midfielder had a poor relationship with the Spaniard. He was in and out of the team but Emery admits that he tried to get the best out of the German playmaker during his time in North London. He said:
“I worked for one and a half years with Mesut and tried to help him, support him and achieve the performances for the team with him.”
“Now I don’t know what the problems are as I am very concentrated and focused with Villarreal.”
“I follow every Arsenal match but I don’t know what the problems are with the team or the players. I can only speak about Mesut Ozil when I was with him there and I tried to achieve the best performances with him.”
The former Gunners head coach handed Bukayo Saka his debut for Arsenal when he was just 17 years old and Emery was full of praise for the England international. He said:
“I remember when Bukayo played the first match with us in January. We won against Fulham 4-1 at the Emirates, he played for the first time with us at 17 years-old for 10 minutes. He didn’t touch one ball in ten minutes! He ran, ran, ran but didn’t kick one ball – it was amazing.”
“When he started playing regularly you could look at him and see he’s a very good player. He’s progressing as a very important player and he is a very humble person.”
“It’s very important because some other players don’t have the same humble qualities as him to always want to learn, listen and follow us.”
“Bukayo was amazing as a person and a player. You could tell he’s a very intelligent, smart kid too.”
On being asked if he had a message for Arsenal fans, he reiterated that his experience at Arsenal made him a better person and coach. He said:
“My message [to the Arsenal fans] is that I’m grateful for my experience and above all my first year in Arsenal. I understand how football is, with the emotions and good results are needed.”
“The second year we lost a little bit that and the club decided to change me but I can’t say anything negative to them because for my experience it was amazing to be in Arsenal.”
“Now I’m using all my experiences in Villarreal and want to create my way here.”
“The [Arsenal] supporters supported me in that moment and the second year was more difficult but I understand totally. My message is thank you.”
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