‘Good ebening’ Arsenal, Unai Emery is back in town!

Unai Emery in Arsenal, UEFA Europa League final, cup, Coach Unai Emery, Arsenal FC, Villareal

In the 2006 Edition of the UEFA Champions League, Arsenal FC had to surmount the challenge of Villarreal FC from Spain to qualify for the final with Barcelona or AC Milan waiting as the opposition in the final to be played in Paris. Arsenal FC then under Arsene Wenger won the first leg in London by 1-0 but they had their hearts in their mouth when Villarreal was handed a penalty with three minutes left of play in the return leg in Spain with scores at 0-0. The iconic Juan Román Riquelme stepped forward to take the kick, with Gael Clichy the Arsenal left-back who came on just a few minutes earlier for Matheu Flamini after picking a hamstring injury already a mental wreck. He was the one who committed the foul inside the penalty box and a goal then by Villarreal would surely be taking the match into extra time but the gunners’ goalkeeper had other ideas. Jehns Lehmann kept his gaze on the spot-kick taker and dived to the left as Riquelme released a canon. The 36-year-old German goalkeeper parried the ball away and emerged as Arsenal hero as the referee blew his whistle for full time a few minutes later. Arsenal was going to Paris for the UCL final.

Fast forward 15 years later, Arsenal is in yet another European cup semi-finals, the EUROPA cup this time, and yet again, standing between them and another final is the yellow submarines. Arsenal must not only beat Villarreal to play in the final in Gdansk, Poland, but they must also do that by going through their immediate past gaffer, Unai Emery.

When long-time coach, Arsene Wenger was departing the Emirates in 2018, the Arsenal hierarchy had turned to the former Sevilla and Paris St-Germain coach to take the club to the next level. The Spaniard had arrived with a great CV which included three EUROPA league titles at Sevilla and the French league title at PSG. Expectations were high going into the post-Wenger era and a lot of fans were confident Unai Emery was the man to lead the club to the promised land.

The season ended and Arsenal finished in 5th position. A step better than the previous 6th placed finishing achieved under Le prof the preceding year but a step below the champions league spots available to the top 4 finishers yet there was a catch. Unai Emery had taken Arsenal to the EUROPA league final, one better than Arsene Wenger whose team got eliminated in the semi-finals by Atletico Madrid the year before. A win in the final was to take Arsenal back into the UCL albeit through the back door as Winners of the EUROPA cup but it ended in tears. The Gunners suffered a 1-4 thrashing in the hands of bitter rivals, Chelsea and Unai Emery, a 3-time EUROPA cup winner as coach of Sevilla had failed to deliver anything in his first year at Arsenal.

The board backed the 48-year old Spaniard who never fails with his customary “good ebening” as against the normal “good evening” greeting due to his Spanish mixed diction with some good cash as over £130m was spent in the summer with the arrival of winger, Nicolas Pepe, defenders David Luiz, William Saliba and Kieran Tierney as well as Gabriel Martinelli, a striker. That was however as good as it got as results took a turn for the worst going into December with the Londoners not winning a single EPL match in 7 attempts, the worst run since 1992 when they failed to win a game in 8 matches under George Graham. The sack letter was inevitable and on the last day of November, the North London club announced that it was replacing Unai Emery with another Spaniard, Mikel Arteta who was an ex-player of the team but was then working as an assistant coach to Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Despite eventually finishing 8th on the log, Arsenal went on to win the FA Cup at the end of the season thereby earning the EUROPA cup place for which they are now in the semi-finals and paired to play Villarreal now coach by Unai Emery who became the yellow submarines coach in July 2020, succeeding Javier Calleja, on a three-year deal.

Are we about to witness a repeat of 2006? Revenge for the Spanish team or is Unai Emery going to have the last laugh? A trip to the 44,000 Stadion Energa Gdansk for the final of the EUROPA cup is at stake.

‘Good ebening!’

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