Unai Emery has spoken to Spanish newspaper El Mundo ahead of Wednesday night’s Europa League final. He talks about the game, his first season in England, his outlook and much more.
We’ve translated it all for you below. Enjoy.
You seem changed?
I would say less pressured, nothing more.
Here they make things easier for me. The Arsenal is a very big club, but at the same time very close and affectionate. Everyone is willing to help. Respect is the first word you feel.
Did you not feel it before?
I’ll give you an example. When I arrived in Paris, I tried to speak French and the answer, sarcastically, was that I did not speak it well. In London I use very basic English and everyone smiles at me and they thank me for trying.
Neither in Spain?
Since I started at Lorca, where I went from being a player to a coach, I had the feeling of winning to survive, to avoid being dismissed. Clubs have two doors, the one in front and the one in the back, and you struggle to get out by the first one. Almería, Valencia … everywhere I worked with the stress of winning to avoid dismissal, not to grow over time. When I arrived in Paris, things did not go well at the beginning and I told Al-Khelafi. He told me not to worry, it was a long-term project, two years. We won a league and two cups, but they wanted me to do something great in the Champions League.
We came back to the same thing. We were eliminated by Barcelona and Aytekin [the referee] the first season, and Madrid to the next. With VAR, today, Barcelona would not have passed and Madrid would have canceled the first goal at the Bernabéu. Curiously, it is the VAR that separates PSG this season against Manchester United. We discussed it with Al-Khelaifi when we saw each other recently. At Arsenal, I have the feeling, for the first time, of winning to build, not to survive. I feel the respect towards me even when we lose, but I want to ensure that the defeats hurt more, because it is a step to improve competitively. I want the mourning to lose be greater than two hours.
Arsenal needs titles.
I did not promise titles, I promised to compete. What Wenger did in this club was very big. He managed to give a touch of quality to make the game more fluid and colourful, but little by little he lost the competitive gene. That is what was transmitted to me and what I was hired for when I interviewed Raúl Sanllehí and the owners. The economic potential of United, City or Liverpool is greater than ours, but by history and structure, Arsenal is among the top 10 clubs in Europe, and we have to place it there again.
This final is the first step?
Not only for the title, but for the possibility of returning to the Champions League. We know Chelsea well, a team with quality and a high physical level.
Do you have the antidote to stop Hazard?
Hazard is a player of moments, but decisive moments. It is what we have to avoid. Chelsea is capable of winning thanks to them, and that ability I have only seen in Messi, Cristiano, Neymar or Salah. For me, he is in the quintet of the best in the world. City, for example, has won its second Premier, but it has done more from the collective. It is a more choral team, like Tottenham, despite the contribution of Harry Kane and Son.
Four English teams in the European finals and no Spanish. How the times change!
There are explanations. The Premier League is the strongest at the level of income and that has a direct impact on hiring. You will tell me that neither Messi, nor Christian, nor Neymar, whom I consider the best three, play in England, which is true, but if we go to the second line of quality, most are here. In addition, the Premier League is more versatile in its models, with some of the most competitive coaches in Europe, such as Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino or before Mourinho. For years, the priority was to win the Premier League, with the continental tournaments in the background. That has changed. Now they look more to Europe, success in those tournaments is becoming more desirable.
We already know what nationalism is. Crises give wings. I am Basque, I know what I am talking about, and I am comfortable as Basque and Spanish. When there are problems, people tend to be rooted, to defend the inside. Personally, I think we have to open borders, not close them, and when you go outside, you have to make an effort to enter into another culture.
What would be those explanations in football?
In English football today, you generate what you generate, with or without the ball, you have to do it in high intensity. You can not play in another way: either you are intense or you die. The gain of individual duels is a priority for most coaches, is very present in the work. Big Data is helping us to achieve it. Does that mean it’s not a technical football? Absolutely. It means that technical quality is not enough, given the physical level that rivals impose on you, especially away from home. You have to match it to hold yourself and then have quality to impose on a regular basis.
In France, for example, it was not necessary, because there were few real important matches and we played the season at specific moments. That is the barrier that we had to break and I could not because of the circumstances we have talked about before. Your ability to succeed or not was concentrated in moments. That reminded me of Sevilla, where the president told me that for the fans the important thing was to reach the end, because they were unique moments. The regularity went to the background. In the Premier League you are bound to be regular. Spanish football dominated the world thanks to quality, which is what prevails. It also has all the technology we have in the Premier, but its intensity and speed are lower. It is what European performance this season points out.
Actually, it is one of the exponents of that domain, Guardiola, who commands in the Premier.
Pep has made a mix. He has sacred principles, which are not touched, but these are only 50%. The other 50% is made up of the scenario and the variables. City has scored goals with long kicks from his goalkeeper, something unthinkable in his club, and his counter attacking is dizzying. One of the things that he said as soon as he arrived was that he had to be strong in both areas and for that you have to be physical. Look at many of his big signings: Stones, Walker, Mendy, Laporte … What are they? Defenders.
Is Guardiola’s work in the Premier really so referential?
Yes, but Pep is unique. We all look at what he does and how he does it, even if we are not able to repeat it. However, there are very diverse success models, even antagonistic, such as Guardiola and Simeone. There are those who do not talk to the players and others who do not stop doing it. I like to know what others do, how they train and how they relate, and I take what I think of each one, be it Guardiola or Mourinho.
Guardiola wins the Premier, you reach the final of the Europa League and Pochettino, trained as a coach in Spain, will play the final of the Champions League.Spain has a very high level of technicians.
Apart from training, we have learned from each other. Portugal has a spectacular school and, since their league is less competitive, they have come out more, something that has competitively matured them. In France they leave less and in England a young generation is beginning to stand out, that works well and is influenced by the work of which we have brought. One of them is Gareth Southgate, the England national team manager.
Among those models you cite, how would you catalog it?
They have told me everything, above all, defensive. I respond, as I said, that I am competitive, and that is what I intend to transfer to my team. At Arsenal we want to raise the physical level little by little, without the rest deteriorating. But one of its main arguments is the speed developed by Aubameyang. He is a player of spaces, who seeks to exploit the area behind defences, and who also has the gift of goal. It gives us that explosion, which is basic to our game. The match in the Mestalla, in the semifinal round, is a good example, because it was Valencia who had to carry the weight of the match and that was going to grant us safe spaces.
Is that your game?
It depends. I want us to be a chameleon team, able to play in possession, in static attack against close opponents, or to counterattack. For the first, Ozil suits very well, he has the virtue of discovering spaces. For the second, Aubameyang. To the extent that we are able to combine it, we will grow.
Who will you need more in the final against Chelsea?
Both. Finals usually demand more than one match [tactical approach].
Do the three Europa League titles won with Sevilla give you advantages?
The experience of having been in that situation, but it is only one more variable.
And how much does a elimination like the one you suffered count, with a 6-1, at the Camp Nou?
I always say that all experiences enrich, not only positive ones. After the defeat, I had to rebuild my personal puzzle, because there are always pieces that you can not control. Some things were my fault and others of the referee. VAR, as I said, would have given us the qualification. I am absolutely in favour of its implementation, because it offers more justice to football, but I believe that its interpretation must be improved.
Sometimes there has to be a goal like that of Mbia in Mestalla [he qualified Sevilla for the 2014 Europa League final with a 94th minute goal] to break a barrier, the same as happened with Bakero’s in Kaiserslautern, without the which Barcelona would not have won the first European Cup, or that of Lucas Moura in Amsterdam. Sometimes they are in your favour, as in the case of Mbia, and sometimes against, as in Sergi Roberto’s at Camp Nou. It’s football, my profession.
It is not due to football that you lose Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but because of his fear as an Armenian to go to Azerbaijan, due to the latent conflict of Nagorno Karabakh.
Neither the citizens of Armenia feel safe in Azerbaijan, nor those of Azerbaijan in Armenia. As much as they have guaranteed security, he does not feel that way. That UEFA decided to choose Baku and that detail escaped them was a mistake, but the problem is not really of UEFA, but of politics. We return, as I have said, to the question of nationalism. In the Basque Country we had a very difficult political climate. I feel Basque and Spanish, and I have not had problems in that aspect, but you have to make an effort to integrate.
Now I do it in England as another Spaniard.