Arsenal fans weren’t exactly heartbroken to see Unai Emery leave as the club’s manager in November 2019. The Gunners struggled to find a clear identity under the Spaniard and results were generally underwhelming. The decision to sack Emery has been vindicated by the success enjoyed by Arsenal under Mikel Arteta this season.
Emery, however, never offered a true reflection of himself at the Emirates Stadium. He was never allowed to. The 50-year-old had to handle the emotional baggage of the end of the Arsene Wenger era and that weighed him down. The Arsenal fans never truly understood what sort of coach he was.
Aston Villa should have a better idea of what Emery will bring as their new manager with the Spaniard appointed as Steven Gerrard’s replacement earlier this week. Since leaving Arsenal three years ago, Emery has added to his reputation by enjoying success at Villarreal, winning the Europa League with the club in 2021 before reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2022.
As a tactician, Emery is renowned for his ability to organise a compact, spirited team. This is how Villarreal played under his stewardship. It was this sound foundation that allowed them to reach the final four of the Champions League last season with a budget far smaller than that of the elite opponents they were up against.
Gerrard attempted to forge a compact team during his time at Aston Villa, but failed in this objective. This, however, is why Emery will be equipped to succeed at his new club – Gerrard has left behind a squad that should be a good fit for the former Arsenal, Paris Saint-Germain and Sevilla boss.
It’s not that Emery doesn’t like attacking football, it’s that his teams show intelligence in when and how to attack. Villa fans should look at how Villarreal picked off Bayern Munich so effectively in moments of quick transition in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals – that’s the sort of thing they can look forward to under their new manager.
“Here I have felt something of heart again, but the profession is within me,” Emery said when asked why he has left Villarreal for Aston Villa midway through the season. “This one, I have considered that I had to take it, as a sports challenge, as a different project. It is a personal and professional decision. I left home at the age of 24 and opened myself up to the professional world of football with all the consequences.”
Emery certainly has a point to prove in the Premier