Unai Emery says the Europa League has become a much stronger competition in the last 10 years and this season has provided a platform for Arsenal to showcase their talent to the whole continent.
Having won the trophy on three occasions with Sevilla, the boss is hoping to become the first ever coach to win the competitions four times. Should he pull it off on Wednesday night, he’ll also have achieved his ambition for his first season in charge at the Emirates; securing Champions League qualification.
Facing the media in Baku ahead of tomorrow’s night’s match, the boss reflected on his experience of Europe’s second-favourite club tournament.
“I started playing in this Europa League when its name was UEFA Cup,” he said. “And in 10 years it improved a lot.
“When UEFA’s direction decided to give the winner the possibility to play Champions League three years ago, I think it is also one important step for the teams. Above all, for example in the domestic competition like in England, because the top four is really hard to achieve with a lot of important teams, in Spain is the same and maybe in Germany and Italy.
“For example, Lazio and Milan are out of the next Champions League. The Europa League improved a lot I think in the last 10 years. One, the decision from UEFA to give the possibility to play the Champions League if you win, I think it helps it to improve more.
“I think now and in the last years with Sevilla, but in the last years for example Atletico Madrid, Olympique de Marseille and also Manchester United. I think now a lot of teams, and an example is also this year with Chelsea and Arsenal, they are playing this final with great teams in the world.
“All the teams cannot do one way into the Champions League, so this way is also important. Firstly because it’s one title and after I think the Champions League, the Europa League is the second-most important trophy you can win.
“To battle the best teams, like we battled Napoli, we battled Valencia, and now the final and the possibility to battle Chelsea, it gave us this challenge in an important way and to show our capacity in this competition.”
Given Chelsea have already secured a Champions League place by finishing third in the Premier League, there have been suggestions that the West London club may lack the same determination to win as Emery’s men. The Spaniard was quick to play down such chatter.
“I think not,” he said. “Because the first thing is, in Chelsea, they are in the same idea. Chelsea won this competition with Rafa Benitez and in this moment there is not the possibility for home to go from Europa League to Champions League.
“Why is the reason? Because one objective in all the teams in the world is to play for the possibility to win a title. I think the first objective is to play for the possibility to win one title.
“The second is to also help us to achieve the Champions League through this competition. But the first target for Arsenal, and for Chelsea, is to play to show our supporters and win for our supporters and us this one title.”