Mikel Arteta says he spoke to Unai Emery before taking over in the Arsenal dugout and was thankful that his compatriot reached out to talk about the project he was inheriting.
Emery lasted 18 months in charge at the Emirates before being sacked in November 2019 following an eight-game winless run. Within a month, Arteta was lured from Manchester City to take over as head coach. He went on to win the FA Cup but struggled to rehabilitate the club’s league form on the way to an eighth-place finish.
Reflecting on his interaction with Emery, who he will face tomorrow night in the Europa League semi-finals, the boss said:
“I spoke to him a few times because we had people in common. Then I spoke to him before I took over at the club. He was really helpful, a really successful and experienced manager, in the Europa League especially with what he’s done. There’s no doubt that he has the tools to manage at the top level.
“He offered me that opportunity which is sometimes unusual and he was very sincere and open. I was very grateful for that.”
He added: “He was very honest, very open and I was very grateful because it’s not something that’s very common. I know a lot of people who’ve worked with him and been around him and they all said the same thing, as a person, he’s a fantastic man. Obviously, he’s a great manager but they highlight the man behind it and who he is. In this situation, because it came from him, which is unusual, I was surprised and I was grateful.”
For both Emery and Arteta, winning the Europa League represents the only viable chance of qualifying for next season’s Champions League. The stakes are high enough without the media peddling a ‘revenge’ narrative.
“I cannot control that,” said Arteta. “The relationship existed, we cannot go against it. Unai knows the club really, really well. We know Unai as well, what he did before he joined here and what he did at the football club and that’s it.
He added: “It didn’t work for him but he did a lot of good things at the club. During his time he reached a European final, he put a team [together] that competed for the Champions League. The club decided to take a different route but he did a lot of good things as well.”
“I don’t know the reasons why he was criticised. You ask me about the job he did, what the people at the club said, what the players said about him and I can only have good and nice words for him.”