Unai Emery has given an interview with Marca about taking the Arsenal job, the challenges he faces, the changes he’s had to make, and much more. Here’s a full transcript of it.
Why do you think you were chosen by Arsenal? You weren’t the only candidate.
As Ivan Gazidis explained on the day of the presentation, I was on a list of eight candidates they were going to interview. Thanks in part to Arturo Canales (his now agent), they insisted I was the best candidate of all.
How did you convince them?
Teams had always made approaches to me with a decision made: PSG, Sevilla, Valencia, Spartak, Almeria … I wasn’t used to being another candidate and presenting my arguments. I prepared with my technical staff. I went in with doubts about my English, but they always told me this wouldn’t be a problem. I spoke to them naturally that day.
And then the appointment.
These days it’s very difficult that a coach stays 22 years (like Wenger). They had to move all the chairs in every aspect of the club. Not because of previous negligence, but to stimulate everyone again. Shake things up, sweep under carpets, open the windows, but in a positive way. I once learned from Javier Irueta (former player and coach for Real Sociedad, Athletic Bilbao, Deportivo and more), that if they ask you for change you have to do it, so I started to elaborate on my ideas.
Did you speak to Arsene Wenger about the handover?
No about the team. I met once with him, and little else. I respect him a lot, but no matter how much information he gave me, I had to change things. I told the players ‘We start at the zero kilometer mark!’ Even now, four months later, I still say it: “We are at the beginning.”
Is it true that you’ve added more gym work to training?
Here, there’s a High Performance team that continues that work. I changed details such as putting a gym next to the training pitches to make the transfer from there closer. Just methodology. The same ideas as before remain.
What about the myth that you replaced juice with water? More weight control? Are they just stories in the press?
There were food habits to be improved. Together with the nutritionist and the physical trainer we agreed to remove juices with sugar, but it’s normal. It’s what I do at home. Eat sugar-free, less fat, healthier food. That’s it.
You do seem like a detailed technician.
It makes me laugh every time they tell me. Once a Chinese coach came to see us in Seville, and he said it a lot. “Unai, I was impressed by how well you work the details”, he told me. It stayed with me, and I said to myself, “Well, this can be something positive!”.
But, it can also be a negative, which is to say, it can be heavy, to want to influence the players a lot … then, I don’t know. What I do is work. I start with the 90 minutes, analyse coverage, how we occupy spaces etc, and then I transfer it to video and I teach the players.
Do they understand?
I believe there are times when a player must express himself. It’s about the balance between this and the ‘famous’ details.
Your Arsenal confuses me: sometimes you have the ball, other times you counter-attack. How do you define it yourself?
Before Wenger, Arsenal celebrated the 1-0 and it was based on defensive solidity. With Arsene the joy was in attack, with high quality players. The perfect combination was the Invincibles, but over time only technical quality and offensive freedom were taken care of, losing the defensive structure. What I want is to unite both essences and be more competitive. Arsenal was in decline, we had to stop it and start climbing.
Has that climb begun already?
I want to create a team that knows how to play with spaces, to be able to counter-attack with or without spaces, looking to generate them with a pause. We are in that now: creating an idea, a style, to be competitive. We’re coming from an Arsenal that didn’t win against the top 6, and this season we haven’t done that yet, but it was also difficult for the team to win away from home which we have already improved.
Are Arsenal considered a step below the top four of City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Sp*rs?
We can improve this team. I will demand that. I am delighted with the way the club treats everything, but I want them to be demanding of me because I will press the club. I want to make demands of myself, the team and the club. The Premier League is not the same as it was 20 years ago when City and Chelsea were half teams, and Everton were strong. The money from outside has changed everything. And Arsenal has to be big, not let the top four get away from us, and not let those below us catch up.
Let’s talk names: it took a while to put Lucas Torreira in the starting line-up. Why?
You have to respect the hierarchies. If we sign Leno, but Cech is playing well, you have to respect that. Petr was first choice. The same thing happened with Guendouzi and Torreira who arrived later (due to World Cup etc). I stuck with the first one, who I love, although right now he’s not playing and Lucas is.
You’re playing with two forwards: Aubameyang and Lacazette. This wasn’t usual for you before.
We’re in a process. It will work for one match, but not for another. You have to look for answer. I love analysing them. When I left Valencia I told the president I was more an analyst of coaches than an analyst of players. I don’t have time to watch players. I am more tactical. Wenger was, for example, someone who saw more pure football, much more of the player.
You’re 16 games without defeat, in all competitions. What does it mean?
That we’ve got a lot left. We’ve had four draws in our last five games and we need to give the team a push now. I’ve spoken with my team during the international break. Our goal is finish in the top four but it’s not easy. It’s harder and harder to get there. Against Liverpool everyone was happy but we only drew. That’s not sufficient.
English football is more complicated than other leagues. True or false?
Maybe, because almost all teams have one or two players of top qualify, because of their economic power. The best come here with the exception of Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, PSG, Juve and a few others. And the best coaches come every time: Pep, Klopp, Mourino, Sarri, Pochettino …