Unai Emery: Winning the Europa League at Arsenal Would Be His Greatest Achievement

​Ask a sample of Arsenal fans to describe what the last 15 years have been like.

Some will say okay. But okay is all you're likely to get out of them.

You might think that's odd given the Gunners have won three FA Cups in the past five seasons. But that's just how it is.

Most, however, will offer a wry smile, puff their cheeks out with exasperation and look stoney faced as they mutter a selection of these words:

"Abject, awful, disappointing, rubbish, not good enough."

Arsenal v Chelsea - FA Cup Semi Final

And the reality is that, yes, it's been a pretty torrid time at the Emirates. A frightening fall from grace if truth be told by a side who, under the legendary Arsene Wenger, went the entire 2003/04 ​Premier League season unbeaten.

The 'Invincibles' as we all know them now had pretty much everything you would want from a top quality side. 

A side that played free-flowing, intricate and fast paced football, intended to take the game to the opposition, whilst maintaining an elegance and grace that had not been seen in the English game prior to Wenger's arrival in north London.

Furthermore, they had a solid, dependable spine to the team. Led by charismatic leaders that put in commanding performance after commanding performance, they outplayed all and sundry, digging deep in times of need to wrestle a result away from the jaws of defeat.

Arsenal celebrates winning the Premiersh

Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Sol Campbell - they had it all at the peak of powers.

Fast forward the clock 15 years, though, and the traits and characteristics from those dazzling days at Highbury have all but disappeared.

Sure, they've won the three aforementioned FA Cups in recent times, and up until two years ago, had earned qualification into the ​Champions League for 20 consecutive seasons. That's pretty good going.

But being able to qualify for a competition doesn't necessarily dictate whether you are fundamentally good enough to be in it. And for Arsenal, the reality is that they haven't really been at the races for the best part of a decade.

Aaron Ramsey,Granit Xhaka

Not at a competitive European level anyway. The Gunners did enjoy a somewhat surprising run into the latter stages of the Champions League for a good five years prior, but since then it's been pretty miserable.

They've shown glimpses of brilliance over that time, topping the Premier League table at various times after spells of impressive form. The key word in that sentence? Spells. 

Because that's all Wenger's side mustered over the last ten to 15 years, often falling by the wayside just when you think they have turned a corner. The mental resilience and toughness demonstrated during the season they went unbeaten? Gone. Long, long gone. 

Replaced by an inevitably of dread and fear, ​Arsenal have instead become associated with panic and disarray in defence, and it dates back to the day that captain Patrick Vieira opted to leave the club to join Juventus in 2005.

(FILES) Picture taken 21 May 2005 at the

Because for whatever reason, after Vieira's departure, Arsenal's abilities to tough it out under pressure began to elude them. They showed signs of vulnerability and weakness, and since then, they have been ruthlessly exploited for their mental fragilities.

Arsene Wenger, for all he did at the club, held on to the managerial role a little too long and a change was needed. Finally that change was implemented last summer when he stepped aside, and many high profile managers were linked with the role; Massimiliano Allegri, Carlo Ancelotti and Thomas Tuchel to name just three.

But instead, the Arsenal board's choice to take over was former Paris Saint-Germain boss Unai Emery. 

A man who had just been given the boot by the Ligue 1 heavyweights for failing to solve their Champions League mental block.

A man who had won Ligue 1 at a canter in his second season at the club, and won both domestic cup competitions during his two seasons in the French capital.

A man who had won an unprecedented three successive Europa League titles during his time with ​La Liga middleweights Sevilla.

That's three successive Europa League titles.

Unai Emery

You'd imagine the reaction to Emery's appointment, with a résumé like that, was that of overwhelming joy? After all, a proven winner was on his way to north London to oversee a new dawn.

It wasn't though.

Bizarrely, he was regarded as a safe, cautious appointment. A little underwhelming and not the 'big name' manager that those connected to the club had wanted to see.

The reality is, however, that Emery was, and is, exactly the kind of manager needed at Arsenal. His preparation for taking over the job had been ideal, as expectations at his previous job were pretty hefty. Conquer Europe or you'll get the chop was his remit in Paris.

The chop is what he got, but there's no doubting that the experience toughened him. He knew what was coming for many months but got on with his job in difficult circumstances, lifting the Ligue 1 title last season and romping to a domestic treble.


His circumstances at Arsenal are a whole lot better in someways, but a whole lot worse in others. Not because the north Londoners are a desperately poor side - far from it - but they do have serious issues, particularly at the back.

The Gunners have conceded 49 goals this season in the league so far, shelling three goals in their last three Premier League games - resulting in resounding defeats each time - and at the most crucial point of the season.

The ease of which they can be carved open is alarming, and their organisation, or lack of it, resembles what you might expect to see at the local park on a Sunday morning.

Emery has issues; namely the personnel not being up to the task. But he's making a pretty good fist of things despite that and Champions League qualification remains a possibility through a potential top four finish. That despite Arsenal having a dreadful, dreadful away record.

The real standout story of this campaign, though, is that Arsenal have a genuine chance to win the Europa League. Their 3-1 win over Valencia in the first leg of their semi final clash at the Emirates Stadium has given them a healthy advantage heading into next week's return leg at the Mestalla.

Should we be surprised though? Emery has a track record of getting things done in the Europa League - his trio of titles whilst in charge of Sevilla show that. He had a good team there - not the best - but not the worst either.

Crucially, though, they had the spine of a good team. Players who were organised, disciplined and had enough creative spark up front. 

What makes Arsenal's run through the competition this season all the more impressive is that the only real area that they excel in is creativity. Even then, they don't have spade loads of it oozing out of their paws. 

But they do have Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Two speed merchants with a keen eye for goal, both of whom can be relied upon to find the back of the net regularly. That helps.

What they don't have is organisation and leadership. They don't have a calming influence to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and shut things down. The Gunners could conceivably have been 3-0 down after 15 minutes last night, but instead, Valencia were wasteful and they took just the one chance - following more dreadful defending at a set piece.

Incredibly, though, despite their defensive woes, Arsenal have only shipped three goals in the Europa League

Okay, the groups stages hardly produce the kind of opposition that strikes fear into your heart, but keeping clean sheets has been fundamental to their success so far. Shutting out Napoli for 180 minutes of a two-legged quarter final is an accomplishment in itself. Just ask Liverpool.

It's a testament to the work that Emery is putting in that Arsenal are in this position. In recent years under Wenger, Napoli would probably have been a bridge too far. But Emery has solidified the Gunners at the back, if only by small margins. And at the end of the day, small margins often win you things. A change in mentality wins you things.

Sokratis Papastathopoulos,Unai Emery

European glory now beckons and what an achievement winning the competition would be for the club, and Emery himself. He's already achieved it three times, but those triumphs went very much under the radar. This time, he's attempting to wake a sleeping English giant from its trophy slumber and he's very much in the spotlight.

With the defensive talent at his disposal, coupled with following the 22-year Wenger era, victory in the Europa League would be one hell of an accomplishment.

His greatest accomplishment.

Source : 90min

Source: 90min