Villarreal manager Unai Emery has described his time at Arsenal as “less important” ahead of his side’s Europa League semi-final fixture against the Gunners later this month.
Emery – who spent eighteen months in charge at the Emirates Stadium – has comfortably led his side to the final four of the competition without losing a game, winning 11 and drawing once. A 3-1 aggregate victory for Villarreal over Dinamo Zagreb set up the highly-anticipated clash with Mikel Arteta‘s side, who convincingly defeated Slavia Prague 5-1 across two legs.
The Spaniard’s tenure in north London did not go according to plan for either party, and despite reaching the Europa League final in his time at the club, a runners-up medal was not enough to keep his job, resulting in the dismissal of the 49-year-old just six months later.
With the first-leg set to be played in Spain on April 29 at the Estadi de la Ceramica, a second-leg homecoming fixture at the Emirates Stadium a week later could stand in the way of Emery taking his side to the first European final in their history.
When asked about the tie with his old club following Villarreal’s victory over Dinamo Zagreb, Emery was unfazed by the occasion and remains focused on his current role.
“Breaking the barrier of the semi-finals is the great challenge,” the manager told reporters (via football.london). “The idea of reaching the Champions League through the Europa League is very important.
“When I signed here this was one more process. My past at Arsenal is less important.”
He added: “We want to continue to play our way, always respecting our rival and not speculating anything. We need to play to win and go into the match with the same sincerity that we’re currently showing.”
Since taking over the side last summer, Emery has enjoyed a successful stint in eastern Spain so far, with Villarreal currently sitting seventh in the La Liga table, one point behind Real Sociedad in fifth.
Having won three Europa League titles in a previous role with Sevilla, the Spanish manager can ensure that his nightmare in north London was all but a distant memory.
Victory against Villarreal crucial for Arsenal
Having struggled in this season’s Premier League campaign, Arsenal sit 10th in the table and four points adrift of arch-rivals Spurs in the final European spot.
Securing a second major trophy since Arteta replaced Emery in 2019 could be crucial in guaranteeing European football at the Emirates next season.
The final of the competition will take place in Gdansk on May 26, where Arsenal or Villarreal could meet the winner of the other semi-final clash with Manchester United set to face Italian giants Roma.
With Manchester City and Chelsea respectively making it to the final four of the Champions League, both major European cup finals could be contested by four English sides for the second time in just three years.