EXCLUSIVE: Guillem Balague on Unai Emery, Arsenal v Rennes, Mesut Ozil, Petr Cech and much more
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EXCLUSIVE: Highly-respected Spanish football expert Guillem Balague has been speaking exclusively to Layth Yousif about Arsenal boss Unai Emery and the club’s crucial Europa League round of 16 second leg tie against Rennes at the Emirates on Thursday. Read on for what he had to say.
With the Gunners bidding to overturn a 3-1 defeat against Rennes in the first leg in deepest Brittany last week Emery needs to win by two clear goals to turn the tie around against Julien Stephan’s side.
Despite Emery being handed a boost with the news striker Alexandre Lacazette will be able to face the Ligue 1 side, the North Londoners will be without defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos – who was sent-off following two yellow cards during the first leg when the Gunners were leading 1-0 through an early Alex Iwobi goal.
The 25-year-old Calais-born Benjamin Bouriegeaud fired home a rebound from the resulting free-kick before half-time moments after the Greek player saw red to level the scores, before a Nacho Monreal own goal and an 88th minute strike from Ismailia Sarr - who was superb on the evening - put Emery’s chance of landing the trophy he won three times in a row with Sevilla in serious doubt.
However Balague believes Arsenal have enough talent and character to progress.
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Speaking exclusively to the Gazette he said: “I think Arsenal will get through against Rennes. Why not? It will be difficult but I think they will.
“Unai Emery is a hard worker who has never ever had anything handed to him.
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“Everything he has done in his career he has earned himself.
“Maybe it is because he was not a top player he appreciates the sacrifices you need to make to become a successful coach. His family are hard workers and he is too. It is in his nature.”
While Emery lost his first two games in charge, he embarked on a 22 match unbeaten run before Christmas which boosted the Gunners hopes of finishing in the top four and claim a coveted Champions League spot.
Arsenal have won their last nine home league games while also easing past BATE Borisov in the previous round of the Europa League despite losing the first leg 1-0 in Belarus – and come into the game on the back of an impressive 2-0 victory over Manchester United at the Emirates on Sunday.
Yet the Basque-born boss has still been criticised by some.
However, Balague believes this to be unfair, adding: “People are saying that you cannot tell what the philosophy of Arsenal is.
“I don’t think that is right. It is just that there are different Arsenal’s depending on the way he wants them to play.
“He is gradually moulding the club in his image. You could say the club lost its way a little before Emery took over and gradually he is bringing that back.
“Emery is not a manager in the mould of an Arsene Wenger or Sir Alex Ferguson.
“He is a head coach. He has a work ethic and attention to detail and his right hand man Juan Carlos Carcedo helps him on the training pitches.”
One player who has been the subject of plenty of conjecture and speculation is Mesut Ozil – with some fans questioning whether Emery has a problem with the talented yet mercurial creative midfield talent.
Balague does not believe the Spaniard can’t deal with the German World Cup winner.
He explained: “I don’t think Emery has a problem with ‘big name players’ at all.
“He was very respectful and had a good relationship with Neymar at PSG. He just wants his players to work hard for him.
“I don’t think he has a problem with Mesut Ozil at all.
“Juan Carlos Carcedo is his right hand man and Emery relies on him to be his eyes as well. Both of them will study the players in minute detail in training.
“If Emery sees that he doesn’t think he [Ozil] is working hard enough he won’t pick him. Do you think he would take him out of the team just because he doesn’t like him? No.”
With Petr Cech again expected to start in Europe after featuring against his former club in the first leg, Balague had words of praise for the experienced former Chelsea shotstopper.
Cech performed heroics against the side from Brittany at an atmospheric Roazhon Park, keeping his side in the tournament after a series of excellent saves.
Balague said: “He picked Petr Cech at the start of the season because Petr Cech was playing well. Of course Bernd Leno is the No1 choice in the league but Cech is an excellent goalkeeper in his own right.
“I think there are areas in which Emery will strengthen in the summer but I don’t see the position of goalkeeper as one of them.
“I certainly don’t think, for example, Arsenal will be looking to sign someone like Thibaut Courtois from Real Madrid.”
Emery is a course and distance winner in this competition with Sevilla.
He lifted the predecessor to the UEFA Cup three times between 2014 to 2016 eclipsing his Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán forebear Juande Ramos a decade earlier who won it twice with the Los Rojiblancos in 2006, and in 2007.
The former Real Sociedad midfielder, who became a coach in 2004, was in charge of Valencia from 2008 to 2012 before assuming charge at Sevilla in 2013, shaping them into one of the most competitive sides in European football.
In the process he lifted the Europa League three times on the bounce, the first manager to have done so.
Balague added: “Emery is very well-respected in Spain for what he did with Valencia and Sevilla.
“Whether he is at Arsenal for two or three years or longer, I do think that at some point he will take a big job in Spain.
“Maybe Atletico Madrid. Don’t forget Real Madrid looked at him. But he is doing his best and working hard at Arsenal.”
Follow Arsenal reporter Layth on Twitter @laythy29