Emery ‘irked’ Arsenal stars – but Villa gave ‘obsessive’ boss power to succeed
Arsenal face the daunting prospect of travelling to Aston Villa for a tantalising clash between first and third in the Premier League.
Mikel Arteta's league leaders are in fine form, and, following a dramatic late win in a 4-3 thriller at Luton in midweek, have every right to be confident. But the Gunners will come up against a Villa side on Saturday evening who have won 14 consecutive home games, including a famous 1-0 win over champions Manchester City on Wednesday.
Relegation battlers under Steven Gerrard in the early stages of last season before the Liverpool legend was sacked, Villa have since been galvanised by one of the world's most talented football coaches, Unai Emery. And now the Spanish manager has awoken the Midlands' sleeping giant – just as he might have done at Arsenal if given more time at the helm.
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Four years last month Arsenal sacked Emery, leaving the former midfielder deeply hurt at a decision he is said to have not seen coming. That was having immersed himself in the task of restoring the Gunners to their former glory, following the disappointing final years of Arsene Wenger's historic reign.
According to the Athletic, the manager frequently described as "obsessive" by those who have worked with him, was so focused on developing Arsenal in terms of tactics and personnel, including nurturing the talents of young player such as Gabriel Martinelli, Bukayo Saka and Eddie Nketiah who he had introduced into the first team, that he did not recognise the growing discontent that led to his firing in November 2019.
Since his departure from North London, the 52-year-old boss has reportedly confided in close friends that he did not pay enough attention to the politics behind the scenes at Arsenal, where he was considered to have not grasped the wider picture beyond purely football matters. Yet in Birmingham his obsessive nature and distinct approach has been welcomed and allowed to flourish.
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At the club's Bodymoor Heath training ground, Emery has been granted the power to design his own network of trusted friends, with two major appointments last summer who take care of most off-the-field matters. They are his personal assistant Damian Vidagany, who became the club's director of football operations, and crucially, Ramon Rodriguez Verdejo – the phenomenally successful former director of football at Sevilla, commonly known as Monchi – who is now Villa's president of football operations.
The Athletic reports how he also enjoys a trustful relationship with owners Wes Edens and Nassef Sawiris, demonstrated in their holding company, V Sports, announcing a partnership with Real Union earlier this week. In June, Emery and his brother, Igor, acquired a controlling stake in the regional third tier Spanish club, for whom their father and grandfather both played.
While at Villa his 7am to 7pm working hours have been embraced, as the sleeping Midlands giant has risen to third in the Premier League table, at Arsenal’s London Colney training ground it is said his bursts of ideas and long training sessions "could irk players", especially on the days before games, when he would spend two to three hours working on team shape.
This combined with an "unstable" network at Arsenal, with a boardroom "in a state of flux" after Wenger's departure, led to difficulties. Then chief executive Ivan Gazidis moved to AC Milan, while head of recruitment Sven Mislintat and head of football relations Raul Sanllehi also soon departed, along with head of scouting Francis Cagigao and contract broker Huss Fahmy.
Emery just wanted to coach and concentrate on making the most of his tactical brilliance, as he did when winning three Europa Leagues at Sevilla and then after leaving Arsenal when he clinched a fourth at his next job Villarreal. What he did not want was involvement in transfer negotiations or control over the day-to-day running of the club, as had been the case with Wenger.
This was seen as a weakness in his management by the Arsenal hierarchy, and when a series of poor results came in the autumn of 2019, having suffered a comprehensive defeat in the Europa League final to Chelsea the previous May in his debut season, he was sacked. However, in stark contrast Villa have given him the essential support network to help him fulfil his potential in the Premier League.
That includes the hiring of Alfredo Benito – a former team-mate of Emery's at Toledo – in a global technical role and another scout in Pablo Rodriguez, who was a former team-mate at Racing Ferrol. And sitting at the top of the structure is the "power triangle" of Emery, Vidagany and Monchi – who this evening could oversee a victory that takes Villa within one point of Arsenal, in an unexpected but enthralling title race.
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