Unai Emery says ‘corner of my heart’ is for Arsenal, while Villarreal hopes he’s their winning ticket

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Unai Emery insists ‘there is a corner of my heart reserved’ for Arsenal, while the Villarreal boss tries to stop his successor Mikel Arteta from reaching the Europa League final 16 months after his dismissal.

  • Coach Unai Emery is gearing up for an Arsenal reunion with his Villarreal side
  • The Spaniard plays with his old side in the semi-finals of the Europa League
  • There are a series of promising signs so far from Emery’s tenure at Villarreal

Among the many nice things that Unai Emery said about Arsenal on the eve of the first leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday, he slipped into a domestic truth: ‘Neither we nor they have the competition route to the Champions League ahead of us. Open.’

It wasn’t a dig – in fact, when asked about his successor, he described Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as ‘the perfect marriage’.

But it reminded us that Arsenal are no closer to regaining their place in the top four since breaking off their 18-month stint at the helm. He has moved on, but he will never stop believing that if he took longer, he would have been successful with the Emirates.

The ex-Arsenal coach Emery won three Europe Leagues with Sevilla

Villarreal hopes Unai Emery will be their golden ticket this season, winning three Europe Leagues

Emery will now face his former employers Arsenal in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday

Emery will now face his former employers Arsenal in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday

He doesn’t have Villarreal in the top four either, but he has them within 180 minutes of their first European final. That’s more than enough credit to take him next season to a club where patience isn’t that expensive.

‘The performance was good; the result was bad, ‘he said of Villarreal’s 2-1 defeat to Barcelona over the weekend. They fell short against the biggest teams this season and played more games, 13, than anyone else in the division.

But there are many promising signs of progress. Center-forward Gerard Moreno has his best season ever and is the Spanish top scorer in LaLiga with 20 goals.

21-year-old winger Samu Chukwueze lives up to his potential and center-back Pau Torres has played so well that Villarreal will do well to prevent Real Madrid from signing him this summer.

Emery’s pride was also reflected in the frequent mentions of Paris Saint-Germain, Sevilla and Valencia. Why would there be emotional scars after Arsenal if he had already left major European clubs like those three? “There’s a corner of my heart reserved for all my ex-clubs,” he said.

Emery's Villarreal has been inconsistent in the league this season, but there are some promising signs

Emery’s Villarreal has been inconsistent in the league this season, but there are some promising signs

He will also have been tempted to answer Wednesday’s questions in English, just to remind us how he learned the language.

In an interview with Sportsmail a year ago, with the wounds still fresh from his discharge, he said he felt he hadn’t always gotten the backlash he deserved.

‘When I said’ good ebening ‘instead of’ good evening ‘after a good result it was just a joke, when we were losing it was a shame,’ he said.

Emery remains a headstrong coach. He was teased earlier this season for struggling with Chukwueze’s ruling. He is also the target of the country’s top sport impersonator Raul Perez, who brilliantly mimics his traffic cop gestures technically.

Gerard Moreno (second right) and Samu Chukwueze (third from right) are in good shape

Gerard Moreno (second right) and Samu Chukwueze (third from right) are in good shape

But as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta did everything he could to report, he also has a big heart.

‘I know a lot of people who work with him and they all say the same thing, which is that he is a fantastic man, a great manager, but they also emphasize the man behind it,’ Arteta said when revealing that Emery had called him when he took it at the end of 2019 from him.

Emery said the chat was set up by a mutual friend rather than arranged by him, and it was just as much about listing his home in Barnet as anything else.

But you can imagine that the topic of accommodation in London will soon be replaced by formations and tactics.

Emery has moved on from Arsenal but continues to believe he could have been a success

Emery has moved on from Arsenal but continues to believe he could have been a success

Emery stays as intense as ever. Arriving bright and early for practice on Wednesday, he also saw a player early for an interview and took advantage of having a one-on-one session with him to the point where the player’s interview was postponed.

Despite everything he’s played in the last few days, there’s no question how much he wants to win this game. “It is true that I know some of their players,” he said. “But I have to translate that knowledge to my own players.”

He will have left no stone unturned to do just that in the lead up to Thursday’s game.

Emery also described successor Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as 'the perfect marriage'

Emery also described successor Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as ‘the perfect marriage’

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