This is no longer a coincidence; in the current season, third place just four points behind leaders Arsenal and also the second best attack in the competition.
“Coach has infected us with an incredible desire to win,” said captain John McGinn recently. “He knows exactly what he wants. He works hard at it every day. The way he thinks and thinks about football is unique,” added midfielder Leon Bailey.
Number of points in the Premier League
since Unai Emery took over at Aston Villa (October 24, 2022)
1. Manchester City 90
The famous Birmingham club, which only returned to the Premier League four years ago, is suddenly in elite company. After a dominant performance against Manchester City on Wednesday, even the defeated Pep Guardiola called him one of the candidates for the title.
Emery was reluctant, though, claiming: “We’ve only had fifteen games and there are six or seven teams around us who have much higher ambitions than us. We can believe, we can dream, but we are not title adepts.”
Even so, the rise of Aston Villa under the Spanish leadership is definitely worth it. On Saturday, they will also challenge leaders Arsenal at home (6:30 p.m.), which is the main attraction of the English weekend and specifically for Emery, a duel with a personal undertone.
After all, it was from Arsenal four years ago that Emery disappeared without fanfare: emotionally crushed, mocked by fans, discredited by experts. He later recounted: “At every club I’ve been in, the management has stood up for me. Not at Arsenal.’
It was his first English engagement.
He replaced Arsén Wenger, who ruled the club almost indefinitely for twenty-two long years. Emery couldn’t stand the difficult position – and he hardly could at all. Arsenal was undergoing a rebirth, it did not have a clear structure, management members came and left, new functions were tailored for them and powers changed. Political struggles were bubbling in the background, and the owners were actually figuring out what direction they wanted to take in the post-Wenger era.
Emery was hurt that he didn’t fit into the project.
He believed in himself from the beginning, but the disorganized club spat him out after a year and a half. Because of his weak English with a strong Spanish accent, it’s as if he inadvertently became a parody of himself on top. That’s why he explained with distance: “I felt so alone.”
Nevertheless, he did not become bitter, but instead learned a lesson.
“I’m waiting, I’m learning, I’m analyzing,” he said shortly after being kicked out of the Emirates Stadium, saying he wanted to return to the Premier League. Even according to insiders from the renowned website The Athletic, Emery admitted his own shortcomings after the unpleasant collision at Arsenal: “I was too focused on the first team and didn’t notice what was happening around me.”
Emery is a coach, not a manager.
He has never wanted to be involved in transfer talks as his place is on the pitch, which Aston Villa understand at the moment. When they bought the Spanish coach from Villarreal in October 2022, they continued to invest. Therefore, in addition to the numerous implementation team, Damian Vidagany and Monchi, his close colleagues from previous seasons, who take care of the selection of new reinforcements, negotiations and contact with agents, came with Emery.
He didn’t have that comfort at Arsenal. It was a mistake?
“At Aston Villa, Emery lives in a completely different world that was created just for him and mainly around him. At Arsenal, he was just a small cog in an otherwise chaotic machine,” writes The Telegraph in a comment.
At the same time, Emery has also undergone some coaching development in recent years. While during his first stint in England he often adapted his style of play to his opponents, which irritated Arsenal fans in particular, his Aston Villa play perhaps unexpectedly fresh and unrestrained football with a high-ranked defense.
“Such a tactical change for coaches is not at all usual,” experts agree.
“They have adjusted a few things and are very brave on the pitch,” Mikel Arteta, who replaced Emery at Arsenal, also noticed before the weekend clash. “But I looked up to his teams long before: from when he was still coaching Almeria. He was always able to improve the players and the whole team. He was successful in different teams in different countries. I’m really happy for him.”
Although of course he will want to beat him on Saturday.
“Maybe he just came to Arsenal at the wrong time. Hard to say. Even so, he left a lot of good things at the club,” continued Arteta.
Unai Emery (right) as Aston Villa coach, next to him is Mikel Arteta, his successor at Arsenal.
In Emery’s era, for example, a certain Bukayo Saka made his debut, making his 200th start in the Premier League this week. Gabriel Martinelli also got his first chance in English football precisely from the Spanish coach, who revels in detailed video analyzes and lengthy tactical training sessions.
“However, within the football environment, Emery is primarily regarded as a great gentleman and a decent guy,” writes The Independent’s football expert Miguel Delaney. The Athletic added: “Despite everything that has happened, people at Arsenal still think highly of him. They are certainly pleased with the progress he has made during his first year at Aston Villa.”
However, don’t expect any friendlies on Saturday. Villa Park will be red-hot and boss Emery will be on a roll against his former club.