Will Unai Emery’s Europa League love affair conquer Chelsea?

Arsenal have the curious distinction of employing a manager that is more successful in Europe than they are.

Yes, the Gunners don’t have too many fond memories in continental competition. As coach Unai Emery himself pointed out this week, the only two such trophies the club holds —the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup — don’t even exist anymore. He, meanwhile, has three.

This should be the perfect relationship. It bodes well for this vital final against Chelsea.

Particularly in the Europa League, the Spaniard is a serial winner. At Sevilla he took home all his titles consecutively between 2013 and 2016. As commendable as such an achievement is, no one paid too much attention to it or the competition as a whole for that run. Uefa has long been losing its battle to get anyone to give a damn about the second-tier tour of Eastern Europe.

The introduction of a guaranteed entry into the promised land of the Champions League for the winner may have finally changed that. The final has become akin to souls in purgatory having an opportunity to duke it out for a spot in heaven. There’s actually something real on the line. Fortunately for the Gunners then that they have a connoisseur of this cup at the precise moment in their history when they need him most.

This opportunity notwithstanding, Emery’s first season has been frustratingly average. Arsène Wenger didn’t exactly leave him much and it has told. A fifth-placed finish is exactly where they deserve to be. Arsenal will stick with the Spaniard for next season but the verdict on him is very much in the air.

But in Europe he has done his reputation no harm. After navigating past the scare of Rennes, the conquistador of lesser lands made light work of what should have been two challenging ties. Napoli were dismissed in the quarterfinals and Valencia’s end-of-season resurgence was answered with a 7-3 thumping.

With Jürgen Klopp preparing for the Champions League curtain closer next weekend, it seems a lifetime away that he was similarly eyeing a date with Seville. Emery outfoxed him that day in 2016; after Daniel Sturridge scored the opener, Liverpool couldn’t handle the fluidity of the Spaniards and their ability to readjust mid-game.

With the pressure off Chelsea, thanks to their third-place finish, Arsenal need their manager to inspire a similarly composed performance. The Blues, after all, would love nothing more than to screw their cross-city rivals out of a spot in the promised land.

Given those stakes, aided by the fact that this is an all-Anglo affair, this Europa League final has become the most anticipated of its kind in years. Still, this is an occasion for both to wallow in their mediocrity. The main question is whether Emery can climb the ladder before it’s bitterly kicked away from above.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.


Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Not a sweet deal, Mister

Mister Sweet workers say they will not risk their health, and the lives of others, to continue producing and packaging confectionaries

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Nehawu launches urgent court bid over protective gear for health...

The health workers’ union says the government has rebuffed its attempts to meet about mitigating risks to workers

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world