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.

Subscribe to the M&G

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.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Luke Feltham

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

Related stories

Advertising

Subscribers only

How lottery execs received dubious payments through a private company

The National Lottery Commission is being investigated by the SIU for alleged corruption and maladministration, including suspicious payments made to senior NLC employees between 2016 and 2017

Pandemic hobbles learners’ futures

South African schools have yet to open for the 2021 academic year and experts are sounding the alarm over lost learning time, especially in the crucial grades one and 12

More top stories

Zuma, Zondo play the waiting game

The former president says he will talk once the courts have ruled, but the head of the state capture inquiry appears resigned to letting the clock run out as the commission's deadline nears

Disinformation harms health and democracy

Conspiracy theorists abuse emotive topics to suck the air out of legitimate debate and further their own sinister agendas

Uganda: ‘I have never seen this much tear-gas in an...

Counting was slow across Uganda as a result of the internet shutdown, which affected some of the biometric machines used to validate voter registrations.

No way out for Thales in arms deal case, court...

The arms manufacturer has argued that there was no evidence to show that it was aware of hundreds of indirect payments to Jacob Zuma, but the court was not convinced.
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…