Is Unai Emery a Good Fit for Aston Villa?
By Phil Shaw
With Steven Gerrard’s seat on the Aston Villa Bench still warm, Aston Villa have turned to serial Europa League winner Unai Emery to take his place.
Is he a good fit for Aston Villa and their owner’s ambitious plans, or will he forever be tainted for a spell at Arsenal that didn’t yield Champions League football?
Unai Emery in Europe
Having managed Valencia, Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain before taking over at Arsenal, Emery is a respected European Coach with experience of managing both teams with a small budget and teams with a fortune to spend.
His honours list reads better than any other candidate mentioned for the Villa job. Four Europa League wins with Sevilla and Villarreal and everything you can win in France with PSG, but let’s not talk about 2017’s last 16 Champions League. Where Emery’s men conspired to lose the second leg 6-1 at Barcelona after conceeding three goals from the 88th minute.
Emery managed big squads and big egos on the pitch and with PSG at the boardroom level.
But to most English football fans, he’s remembered for his time at Arsenal…
Emery and The Premier League
When Unai Emery turned down the sovereign wealth of Newcastle United before they turned to Eddie Howe, stating there was a “lack of a clear vision”. It was a surprise to many, but it confirmed Emery as a manager who wouldn’t sell their soul at the first sign of unlimited transfer budgets.
Emery would also have been a statement signing for Newcastle, which surely would have laid the foundations for their rise.
A year on and it’s Aston Villa that need him.
At least he isn’t afraid of a challenge.
Taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal was a thankless task, you don’t want to be the guy that follows the legend. You want to be a couple more down the line.
Emery suffered similar difficulties to what David Moyes experienced following Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. His biggest failing was that he wasn’t Arsene Wenger.
People will be quick to overlook the facts of those two seasons. In his only full season, 70 points was Arsenal’s best total since Wenger in 2016/17. Emery’s Arsenal finished fifth in the league, losing out on a Champions League place to Spurs and then missing out in the final of the Europa League after Chelsea beat them 4-1 in 2019.
Emery also blooded Arsenal youngsters Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Emile Smith Rowe, who are now first-team players and in the case of Saka, an England regular.
Unfortunately, Emery couldn’t handle the enigmatic Mesut Ozil and this clash added to an impatient and highly-strung fanbase, who wanted someone to blame for years of perceived decline. He was sacked after 18 months in charge having won 43 drawn 15 and lost 20 matches in all competitions.
People often forget how competitive the top of the Premier League was in 2019. Manchester City beat Liverpool to the title by a point and Arsenal finished two points off third place.
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What will he bring to Aston Villa?
The speed of his appointment shows Emery didn’t need too much convincing to join the Villa project (beyond a substantial wage increase).
For a manager who is respected in European circles, the challenge of correcting his perceived failure in the Premier League will make him hungry for success at Villa.
When Villareal dumped Arsenal out of the Europa League and beat Manchester United in the final, there was a feeling of redemption for Emery.
The next season in the Champions League, he beat Juventus and Bayern Munich, before losing to finalists Liverpool.
Unfortunately, their style of play was criticised and this may be a nagging concern for an Aston Villa squad, which is brimming with attacking talent, only glimpsed against Brentford.
Formation-wise, there are no concerns as his favoured 4-2-3-1 turning into a simple 4-4-2 on attack would suit the players at his disposal.
Considering the all-out attack and naivety of Dean Smith at times and the kamikaze fullbacks of Steven Gerrard, some balance is what Villa need.
With his past experience, you could unfairly (in Smith’s case) say, it is like an adult is now in charge. In Spain, Emery is recognised for his tactical awareness and attention to detail, hence his success in European competitions.
Emery’s first game is scheduled to be against Manchester United on November 1st and he will be hoping for an instant impact, as he is leaving a Villarreal team where it has gone stale.
They currently sit seventh in La Liga, with five wins from their eleven games. So while not awful, rumours that he wanted a new striker in the summer have perhaps made up his mind that it’s time for a new challenge with more financial backing.
What Villa fans cannot deny is Emery has proper pedigree as a coach. He is not a perceived vanity project and not a coach that will evolve with the team. To coin a phrase, he is an oven-ready manager for where Aston Villa want to be.