Unai Emery targets vindication in Europa League semi with Arsenal

After consistent success with Valencia, Sevilla and Paris St Germain, Emery was headhunted to coach Arsenal in 2018 and lead the team into the future after 22 years under Arsene Wenger.

Unai Emery during semi-final first leg against Villarreal on 28 April 2021   -  Getty Images

Unai Emery's coaching reputation was shaken after a dismal end with Arsenal but he has proven himself again with Villarreal and now his former club stand in the way of him and the final of the Europa League, a competition he knows better than anyone.

After consistent success with Valencia, Sevilla and Paris St Germain, Emery was headhunted to coach Arsenal in 2018 and lead the team into the future after 22 years under Arsene Wenger.

He oversaw the club's best ever start to a season and took it to the Europa League final but lost it 4-1 to Chelsea while also narrowly missing out on the top four after a dismal end to the campaign.

Things got worse in his second season as Arsenal endured its worst run in 30 years. By the end of November he was out the door, later complaining the players were no longer committed and saying "the club left me alone".

Current coach Mikel Arteta said Emery helped advise him on making the switch from Manchester City assistant to Arsenal boss and praised the impact his predecessor had.

"I spoke with him before I took the Arsenal job, he was really helpful. He was honest and open with me and I'm very grateful because that's not common when someone is sacked," Arteta told a news conference ahead of Thursday's first leg in Spain.

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"I know many people who worked with him and they highlight his quality as a coach and a person. He did many good things with the club, I don't know why he was criticised."

After almost a year away from football, Emery returned to Spain with Villarreal, the type of aspirational club where he has so often thrived.

There was also an opportunity to return to the Europa League, which he won an unprecedented three times in a row with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016.

He has done remarkably well yet again in Europe's second competition, with Villarreal winning 11 of its 12 games while remaining unbeaten, although his return to Spain has not all been plain sailing.

A push to finish in the top four was expected after predecessor Javi Calleja helped the team come fifth last season but Emery's side has already failed that objective and lie seventh in La Liga, 21 points behind fourth-placed Sevilla.

Its domestic form puts extra pressure on winning the Europa League and earning a ticket to the Champions League.

"Arsenal's history is renowned throughout the world. I am lucky enough to have coached over there, although it ended in unwanted circumstances," Emery told UEFA.com this week.

"I want to win for myself and for Villarreal. I have that competitive instinct, that responsibility I owe the club and everyone I represent with my decisions. I did that proudly when I was at Arsenal, now I'll do that at Villarreal."