ARSENAL SATURDAY FEATURE: Unai Emery aims to end Pep Guardiola hoodoo as Gunners gear up against Premier League champions Manchester City
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New Arsenal head coach Unai Emery is bullish ahead of the club’s daunting opening match of the 2018-19 season against Manchester City.
Despite Arsenal finishing 37 points behind Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering champions from last term Emery has warned his former La Liga adversary the Gunners will be a froce to be reckoned with at the Emirates on Sunday.
Emery, who took over from the long-serving Arsene Wenger in May, has issued a rallying cry ahead of the eagerly-awaited clash – insisting he is ready to finally break Guardiola’s hoodoo over him.
The Arsenal boss believes he is ready to beat the former Barcelona boss, even if Emery has been unable to triumph against a Guardiola-led team in 10 attempts as a manager, drawing four and losing six during their time in Spain.
However, speaking at the club’s training HQ, London Colney, on Friday, Emery was upbeat ahead of his Premier League debut.
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He said: “It’s easier to speak than to do it on the pitch. After two years with Guardiola [City] have more stability.
“When you watch their matches, they play with great confidence and Guardiola’s coaching is clear in this team. It is for that we are working this week, preparing for this game and preparing for the opposition.
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“I’m 46 and he’s 47. He started his career as a bigger player than me.
“His career as a coach is bigger than me. His statistics are better than me. I like playing him because the preparation is demanding.
“When we were in Spain, every match against Barcelona for Valencia and Sevilla was very exciting. Sunday is the same. I want to show and give our players ambition.”
Emery faced Guardiola’s Barca 10 times as Valencia manager but failed to land a single victory against the Nou Camp outfit between 2008 and 2012.
Yet Emery’s record of six defeats and four draws is misleading – for the Arsenal boss gave Guardiola some of his sternest tests while in charge of the Catalan giants.
The Blaugrana may have landed big wins against Emery in Catalonia but they only won once in five games at the intimidating Mestalla – with four of the five meetings in Valencia seeing them come from behind to draw.
No mean feat during the era when Guardiola’s Barcelona were hailed as one of the greatest club sides in the history of the beatiful game.
Valencia more than matched their illustrious visitors resulting in tactically fascinating matches while Emery steered them to a trio of consecutive third-place finishes in La Liga.
His acheivements were all the more impressive when you consider the club were in dire financial trouble at the time, with key stars offloaded in a bid to raise cash, which saw Emery lose players of the calibre of David Villa, David Silva, Raul Albiol and Juan Mata.
Emery, who savoured leading a club with a big budget when in charge of moneybag Parisians PSG that was a far cry from his cash-strapped years with Valencia was in no mood to reflect on the past as he previewed Sunday’s match, adding: “We’ve been working hard as a collective and as individual players this week.
“Above all, it’s about confidence in ourselves to play the best match on Sunday. We are to think only to win the match.”
Emery hails from the town of Hondarriba, deep in Basque country on the border of Spain and France.
It might be a pictureseque backwater with a population of 16,000 but the new Arsenal leader – who will be the first new man in the mangerial dugout at the club for nearly a quarter of a century – has already earned Guardiola’s respect.
Speaking in 2011 the then Barca boss praised Emery saying: “I have a great, great, great opinion of Unai.
“When you watch his teams, you can see there is sense to everything they do. It’s not by chance that in recent years they have rivalled two teams with much higher budgets like Barcelona and Real Madrid.”
With memories still fresh of the two deflating 3-0 defeats by City that punctured Arsenal’s season in late February, first in the Carabao Cup final, then four days later at a freezing Emirates in front of a paltry 25,000 attendance – which arguably helped bring to an end Wenger’s 22-year reign at Arsenal – fans know Sunday’s match will not be easy.
If you throw in the fact Ainsley Maitland-Niles is set to start as left-back after injuries to first choice Nacho Monreal and his deputy Sead Kolasinac the task appears much harder.
Yet, despite the news of Stan Kroenke’s takeover earlier this week, levels of hope in the red and white half of North London are as high as they have been in a long while after a harmonious summer.
With such an impressive pedigree, Sunday could result in another compelling performance against a Guardiola-led team from Emery – one which all Arsenal supporters fervently hope will end in a long-awaited victory for the personable Basque.
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29.