Unai Emery has confirmed that Arsenal were close to offering him a new contract during as they looked to reward the Spaniard for a solid first season in charge at the club.
Hired to get Arsenal back into the Champions League, Emery led the Gunners to a fifth-place finish in the Premier League and to the final of the Europa League where we lost 4-1.
The Spaniard said that Arsenal “swam to the shore, but died on the beach” in their quest to finish in the top four and pinpointed Eden Hazard’s man-of-the-match performance in Baku as the difference between a return to Europe’s top table and another season in the Europa League.
Emery was sacked in late November after a wretched run of form and has today been succeeded by Mikel Arteta; an appointment he backs.
In a lengthy interview with the BBC, Emery revealed: “I was very satisfied with how things went [in my first season] because I believe we learned how to become a team, at times a team that shone, but a team that was effective and competitive, and a team that in general was showing why Arsenal signed me. I believe we achieved that and we just needed to make that final step.
“This season, theoretically, we also began well and I had the feeling – and so did the club – that the achievements of the previous season were valued and we were now looking to how we could develop together, even to the point where they were looking to offer a renewed contract.
“Then I remember we had one month… At one of the international breaks we were third, and then in the first game after we came back, the frustrations from bad results were beginning to make us worse for the following matches. We were losing confidence, and it’s also true to say we were losing a bit of stability.”
Results-wise, the Gunners made a decent, albeit unspectacular, start to this season. However, spiralled out of control quickly following the 1-0 defeat to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. His players soon found themselves in a confidence rut and with the tide turning against him, Emery admits he wasn’t surprised to become the target of supporter frustration.
“I had friends or people at my side who would say to me, “I can see you’re suffering,” and I said “naturally”. When a coach doesn’t win, he suffers. And when he doesn’t win two, or three or four he suffers more. We had to win to regain our emotional equilibrium, to get rid of that frustration and we couldn’t.
“And what is true is the social mass of Arsenal, which is very big, couldn’t see it, couldn’t connect with what was happening and it is true that in this situation, as happens in every country and with every team, the coach finds himself targeted.”
Emery also touched on his relationship with Mesut Ozil confirming he was eager for the German to dovetail with Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but that he wasn’t necessarily the right fit when aggression was required.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Mesut Ozil. He’s a very important player for the team. There are games in which you see Mesut’s brilliance, linking with the attack. But also I had to find players around him so he felt comfortable.
He added: “Ozil is a very important player if you can find a way to make it work with other players. He has talent that allows other players to be better, but when you want a bit more aggressive pressure he does not have the best qualities for that.”
On leaving the club, Emery penned a classy farewell message to players, staff and fans alike. It’s fair to say he regrets things working out, but he maintains his mastery of English was not a factor in his downfall.
“The language barrier becomes bigger in people’s eyes, because of the results,” he explained.
“I think if the results had been good things would have gone like the previous season – people would have allowed me to make mistakes, and found my English more acceptable than focusing on my mistakes.
“I had conversations with players of 20 minutes or half an hour, practically every week. Individually as well. And when I finished the conversation I went to the delegate of the team and asked if the message had been understood. I wanted to see if the message had gone through, and he always told me ‘Unai, logically there are things that could be better, but everything is understood’.”
We’d thoroughly recommend reading the full interview, in which Emery also touches on the snowball effect of a loss of confidence in the squad, his appointment of Granit Xhaka and what he plans to do next.