Unai Emery gives wide-ranging interview about what went wrong at Arsenal

  • Kat Lucas

Mikel Arteta has much work to do at Arsenal. 

The new man in charge has overseen a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth and a dramatic late 2-1 defeat in his first home game against Chelsea. 

The Emirates faithful may be cautiously excited about the Spaniard’s arrival but they will be well aware that he faces many of the same problems as his predecessor Unai Emery.  

Arteta’s compatriot was sacked on November 29 following a home defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League. 

The Gunners failed to win any of Emery’s last seven games in all competitions and by the time he was fired, they were on their worst run since 1992. 

The board ultimately had little choice but to wield the axe, especially with a number of off-field problems plaguing their beleaguered boss. 

Granit Xhaka had to be stripped of the captaincy after his altercation with Arsenal fans against Crystal Palace, while widespread reports claimed players were mocking Emery’s accent by the end of his tenure. 

The former Sevilla and PSG manager has been speaking about all that with Guillem Balague. 

It’s rare that we hear from a sacked manager in so much depth but he has offered remarkable insight into what went wrong for him in north London. 

The full footage can be seen below: 

“I had won three Europa Leagues and I was joining at a time when the club were also looking at the opportunity of once again winning titles,” Emery recalls of his appointment.

“As it is, they have been in Europe for 20 years without a European Cup final. Last year we played in the final against Chelsea and were unable to win it.”

While it seems an age ago now, Emery did enjoy some early success – that 22-game unbeaten run. Yet his first season ended with Arsenal missing out on the top four again. 

“We were also competing in the Europa League where perhaps the efforts we made left us with too much to do because we were in the top four for the last games,” he added.

By the end, his side were in free fall.

“We were losing confidence and it’s also true to say, losing a bit of stability,” he told Balague.

“The game against Sheffield United [a 1-0 defeat] was a bit of a turning point. In one month, everything got broken and we were incapable of winning a game in seven. And the tension based on the question we were asking ‘what is happening to us?’ was like a rolling ball that was getting bigger and bigger. 

“We were trying to find a way to tactically synergise Aubameyang, Ozil and Lacazette…and the results still didn’t come. 

“The team had to play with energy, needed to be capable of being solid in defence and in attack, aggressive. 

“I think we could have turned things around but I also understand that those at the top have to take decisions and take responsibility.”

One of the more bizarre characteristics of his final days was the persistent mocking of his accent by fans – and allegedly, even players. 

Emery deserves credit for doing his best to communicate in a second language and admits before his first press conference, when the ‘ebenings’ first began, he hadn’t slept. 

“I had a ground base of English simply because I hadn’t had the opportunity to develop my English more and I had two years in France where I concentrated so much more on French,” he said.

“So when I arrived in England, the first thing I said to myself is ‘I have to speak English’. 

“And the club not only helped me but also encouraged me to speak English even with all the difficulties, which is why I made that effort. 

“I wanted to lift my level of communication in English to a higher level. When the results are not good you have to answer more questions in English… But I understand that when you have poor results, it can be a problem for you not being able to explain or get your message across. I will continue to try to break down barriers and improve it [my English].”

There were a number of difficult situations he had to overcome in light of that. 

Why Aaron Ramsey was allowed to leave 

“Ramsey was in the final year of his contract and the financial conditions were a key part of the decision,” Emery said.

“[Jack Wilshere] decided to leave and find another place at West Ham. And Ramsey was a club decision. His contract was not renewed.”

On Granit Xhaka

The decision to give Xhaka the armband was his, not the board’s – but it was also one that backfired.

“So the natural leader in the dressing room, because of his values and what he represented, was Granit Xhaka,” Emery explains. 

“There was a vote to see if what I felt about him was also felt by the players. And they did. Circumstances meant that Xhaka had a clash with the fans but he is the leader that this team needs, then and now.”

On Mesut Ozil 

“Ozil is very important for the team. There are games in which you see Mesut’s brilliance, linking with the attack. 

“But I also had to find players around him in which he felt comfortable. Also the team needed to feel solid. And when you, bit by bit, build a team that is aggressive, intense, as well as structured for good pressure, we also have to find a space for Mesut. 

“You try to find a team that is competitive, and I found it last season, but sometimes, for one reason or another, Mesut being out for a month with the problems he had with the recent attempted robbery he was less available. 

“He has talent that allows other players to be better, but when you want more aggressive pressure, he does not have the best qualities for that.”

On Mikel Arteta 

Finally, Emery was asked for his thoughts on Arteta’s appointment. 

“He has been in the Premier League. And he has worked with Pep Guardiola,” he added.

“I do believe that Mikel Arteta is a good decision. And I would also like it to be a good decision.”

Despite all that has unfolded at the Emirates, Emery comes across as a class act. 

He will no doubt be watching on to see if Arteta can fare any better.

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