EPL

Arsenal top, Villa almost bottom – Emery returns to England with a point to prove

By Sports Desk November 04, 2022

In the Premier League, only Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte could reasonably claim not to be envious of Unai Emery's CV.

Emery has coached in three of Europe's top five leagues and won one domestic league title and four of five major European finals.

As recently as May, Emery's Villarreal were going toe-to-toe with Klopp's Liverpool in the Champions League semi-finals.

Yet Emery is returning to England with a side battling against relegation – as he might have done 12 months ago when he was Newcastle United's top target.

Although the Spaniard's two most recent Europa League successes came in finals against Liverpool and Manchester United, he is best recognised in the Premier League as an ultimately underwhelming Arsenal manager, far since surpassed by Mikel Arteta.

So rather than contenders who might realistically allow Emery to immediately add to his trophy haul, it was Aston Villa – only a point clear of the bottom three – who came calling as he makes his latest move with a point to prove.

This is a gamble, just as it would have been a year ago had Emery gone through with the switch to St James' Park.

But he is at least joining a club who, like Newcastle, intend to return to the level at which their new head coach is used to operating.

Former Villa boss Steven Gerrard spoke at the start of the season of the need to "reach for the stars" – an ambition that was not achieved as his side lost six of their 11 league matches before he was sacked.

Gerrard had fallen short of his aim of "continuous improvement", Villa chief executive Christian Purslow said, and it is to that standard that Emery will also be held.

Fourth-placed Newcastle's progress under Eddie Howe – their second-choice when the Emery deal fell through – perhaps provides the template.

Indeed, Howe's Newcastle kindly exposed last Saturday the scale of the task before Emery at Villa Park if he is to again display his almost unmatched expertise in continental competition.

A 4-0 thrashing on Tyneside brought Villa back down to Earth after the previous week's demolition of Brentford by the same scoreline. The defeat was more in keeping with the mood around this team.

Villa have earned a joint-low two away points in the Premier League this season, while they have only recovered two points from losing positions home or away. For all the talent in this squad, they are far too prone to collapse.

When Callum Wilson's penalty in first-half stoppage time broke Villa's resolve, they never looked like regaining any measure of control. Wilson had another goal disallowed before the half-time whistle sounded, teeing up a second period in which Newcastle were swiftly four up.

Despite Tyrone Mings' criticism of Villa's "naivety" in attacking while goals flew in at the other end, the visitors' final attempt of the match came in the 29th minute.

Emery does not have a great deal of time to drill his methods into the team if they are to quickly kick clear of danger before the World Cup.

After his first few days on the training pitch, the first task is Manchester United at home, followed by the same team again at Old Trafford in the EFL Cup.

Meetings with United might remind Emery of Europa League glory; for Villa fans, there will be fears of further punishment.

Meanwhile, Emery will enjoy no Emirates Stadium return in the Premier League this season, with Villa having already lost at Arsenal in August, although Arteta's men are to visit Villa Park in mid-February.

Results on Saturday could see Villa in the bottom three before Emery takes charge, as Arsenal aim to protect their place at the top of the table against Chelsea.

By the time Emery meets his former employers and successor Arteta in league action, he and Villa need that picture to have altered considerably.

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