Emery discusses his ‘difficult’ time at Arsenal, the ‘Good evening’ jokes and links to ‘attractive’ Newcastle job

Unai Emery has discussed his ‘difficult’ time at Arsenal, the jokes regarding his English pronunciation, and links to Newcastle earlier this season.

Emery is preparing for Villarreal’s Champions League quarter-final with Bayern Munich on Wednesday evening, having guided the Spanish side into the last eight of Europe’s elite for the first time since the 2008/09 campaign.


The Spaniard also led the La Liga side to the Europa League last season – beating Manchester United on penalties in the final – and has enjoyed huge success in Europe, despite a challenging spell in the Premier League at Arsenal.

Emery lasted just 18 months with the North Londoners and was sacked after a seven-game winless run in 2019, with the 50-year-old having opened up on the ‘difficult’ task of replacing Arsene Wenger at the Emirates.

“It was a difficult moment for any coach coming in, to establish yourself,” Emery told The Athletic. “Certain players who had been important, but were not any longer, found that difficult to understand. The fans also found it difficult to understand that there needed to be an evolution.

“Changes were needed, and I began those changes.”

“The first season at Arsenal was very good,” Emery added. “We were close to returning to the Champions League coming to the end of the season, but we were playing the Europa League final. We lost our way with all the energy we put into this final. I believe the season would have been perfect if we had qualified for the Champions League.”

Emery discussed the turnover of players during his time at Arsenal and the need for ‘patience’ with his project, whilst his decision to appoint Granit Xhaka as captain backfired following a public fall-out between the midfielder and Gunners fans.

“Five captains left in the first year, there were many changes and patience was needed,” Emery continued. “It was not an easy process. The fans did not have patience.

“Xhaka had problems with the fans and in the dressing room where other experienced players did not understand his role as captain. Xhaka was an important player for me — he was a good person, very committed to his coach.

“The club was happy with me, but the fans were calling for a change, and it had to happen.”

Emery insisted a language barrier was not an issue during his time at either PSG or Arsenal, whilst he discussed the jokes regarding his English pronunciation – including the ‘Good Ebening’ trolling which followed the Spaniard throughout his time in the Premier League.

“In Paris, I spoke in French. In England, in English,” he said. “Not perfect English, but I gave talks of 20 minutes and the players understood, my messages were getting through. Some people pointed to my press conferences, but for me, the language was not a barrier in England, or in France.

“(As a player) I had (Welshman) John Toshack at Real Sociedad. He never spoke perfect Spanish and had his own pronunciation, but we took it with humour, we understood him perfectly. My English was not perfectly pronounced, but it was English, like Toshack speaks Spanish. With ‘Good ebening’, I stress the ‘B’ a lot, we do that in Spanish, but it did not bother me, I liked it.”

Emery was linked with a return to the Premier League earlier this season with Newcastle having registered an interest in appointing the Spaniard, though he turned down an ‘attractive project’ at St James’ Park in order to continue Villarreal’s journey in Europe this season.

Emery will take on Bayern Munich in his first ever Champions League quarter-final as a coach and the four-time Europa League winner insists his respect for Villarreal saw him turn down a tempting return to English football.

“The Newcastle project is an attractive project — something to build, different to Arsenal,” Emery said. “With Arsenal, you first had to knock down the walls, which is hard work, then start to build again. Newcastle, no; it was just about building from the ground up. So it is different, and I liked the idea. But I was also grateful to Villarreal for the opportunity they gave me, and we were in the Champions League.”

“The Premier League is an attractive league for all us coaches. So when Newcastle called me, I thought a lot about the opportunity to return to England, to a serious project. For me, it was a source of pride, satisfaction — and I appreciated it. The opportunity of a club like Newcastle, what it could turn out to be, it is normal to listen to the offer, to consider it.”

“I thought about the offer and I spoke with (Villarreal president) Fernando Roig, but I also had to take into account that we were in the Champions League with Villarreal, mid-season.

“In the end, with a lot of respect for Villarreal, and a lot of respect for Newcastle, I decided to stay here. I am happy and we are doing an important job.”

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