Unai Emery welcomes former side Valencia to the Emirates in the Europa League on Thursday. We look at the Arsenal head coach’s connection with the club ahead of the semi-final, first leg.
Arsenal are three matches away from Europa League glory and a spot in next season’s Champions League – regardless of where they finish in the Premier League – but before they can dream of a potential final against Chelsea or Eintracht Frankfurt in Baku, Emery must first overcome a familiar opponent.
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The Spaniard managed Valencia from 2008 to 2012, a four-year spell which was last witnessed at the club under Alfredo Di Stefano from 1970 to 1974.
Here, we delve deeper into Emery’s time at the Mestalla, and explain why he will be lucky to receive a warm welcome when returning to the ground in next week’s second leg.
Consistency in difficult circumstances
Valencia endured a tumultuous 2007/08 campaign which featured four different managers, two on an interim basis, a 10th-placed finish in La Liga, but also victory in the Copa del Rey.
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Emery ultimately succeeded Ronald Koeman – dismissed in April 2008 – when leaving Almeria to take charge of Valencia in the summer of that year, signing a two-year deal.
The club were struggling financially, hit hard by the global recession – which saw their new stadium plans abandoned despite it being half-built – but with Juan Mata, David Villa, Joaquin, Fernando Morientes and David Silva among those at his attacking disposal, Emery guided Valencia to a sixth-placed finish.
The following season, Champions League qualification was secured when Valencia came third, a position they would go on to finish in the next two campaigns.
Unai Emery’s four seasons at Valencia La Liga Copa del Rey Europe 2008-09 Sixth Quarter-finals Last 32 (EL) 2009-10 Third Last 16 Quarter-finals (EL) 2010-11 Third Last 16 Last 16 (CL) 2011-12 Third Semi-finals Group stage (CL), semis (EL)
In Europe, Valencia were runners-up behind Manchester United, but ahead of Rangers, in their Champions League group in 2010/11, but were knocked out by Schalke in the last 16. The next year, in Emery’s final season, they finished third in their group before losing their Europa League semi-final tie to eventual winners Atletico Madrid.
Despite the three consecutive third-placed finishes, progression in Europe and displaying an astuteness in the transfer market, Emery edged towards the exit door as the end of the 2011/12 season approached.
A bizarre departure
Finishing behind Barcelona and Real Madrid as the best of the rest in La Liga ultimately took its toll on Emery and Valencia.
The club were “prisoners of their own success” as noted by Sid Lowe in the Guardian, distant finishes behind Spain’s big two were deemed not good enough despite their lack of wealth in comparison to Real Madrid and Barcelona, while the timing of his book, released in March 2012 and called ‘Winning Mentality: the Emery Method’ was not viewed highly upon by the club’s supporters, who by that point were already calling for his departure.
It was after Valencia’s Europa League semi-final, first-leg loss to Atletico when Emery announced he would be leaving the club.
“I hope that we can go on and win a trophy and that we will qualify for the Champions League. I will not be here next season, however,” Emery told the Valencia staff, according to AS.
A bizarre exit followed. Emery had been lined up to manage Spartak Moscow the following season, but reports in Spain claim he was made to honour his contract at Valencia, which would run out at the end of June and require him to join the club’s pre-season tour in the United States.
Emery left the tour, Marca reported, citing personal reasons, while his agent Inaki Ibanez said: “Without wanting to fuel controversies, Unai had no reason to go there. He’s not staying on next year and his mind is already on other things.”
Back with Sevilla and a vengeance
After an ill-fated spell at Spartak Moscow, which lasted from June to November 2012, Emery returned to management in Spain when replacing Michel at Sevilla in January 2013.
In his first full season, Sevilla won the Europa League, but only after a dramatic injury-time goal from Stephane Mbia saw them reach the final on away goals at the expense of Valencia.
The second leg took place at the Mestalla, and the manner of how Emery celebrated Mbia’s vital goal did not sit well with the Valencia fans.
“Emery celebrated crazily,” Marca noted. “There will be no love lost when Emery returns to Mestalla as he burned a lot of bridges in the 2013/14 visit… For Valencia, this was a painful defeat…and their former boss was seen to be rubbing it in their faces.”
A chance meeting with Silva
Emery’s connection with Valencia may be frayed after his stint at Sevilla, but it was a chance meeting with a former player of the club that helped convince the Spaniard he should take on the challenge of managing in England.
“At the end of last season, I met David Silva in an elevator in Valencia and he said, ‘Coach, if you can, you should go to England,” Emery told Cadena Cope.
And it was not just Silva. Emery also revealed how former Tottenham goalkeeper Cesar Sanchez, who went on to join Valencia, told him that the Premier League would provide a worthy test.
Emery added: “I remember when Cesar arrived at Valencia after a season at Tottenham and he told me that if one day I could, I should go to the Premier League.”
Now striving for a top-four place in the Premier League, as well as success on the European stage, Emery has indeed been tested from the off in England.
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How Arsenal’s season is defined will be based on the outcome of their next four, or indeed five matches, and Emery can only hope his knowledge of Valencia will help the cause.
Charlie Nicholas’ prediction
What’s happened at Arsenal of late is really troubling. They got beat at home to Crystal Palace but what is Unai Emery’s best scenario? Valencia sometimes play one up front and Goncalo Guedes is the main threat, while against Celtic, Dani Parejo was the danger man – he can pick a pass and open Arsenal up.