Unai Emery faces Mikel Arteta in the battle of the Basque managers as Aston Villa look to continue their relentless surge up the Premier League table against his former club, Arsenal, in the big Saturday night match of the weekend.
Emery reached a Europa League final and recorded a fifth-place finish in his one full season after replacing Arsene Wenger at the north London club.
Following Wenger and embedding himself into the culture of Arsenal proved too big a task, however, and it has taken subsequent spells at Villarreal and now Villa for Emery to remind the football world he is a winner.
To Arteta, ten years Emery’s junior and a relative novice as a manager, his fellow countryman’s achievements come as no surprise. Emery is the man he and his fellow Basque bosses have always looked up to as a trailblazer.
“I followed him since he was in Almeria in 2006,” Arteta said. “For every team he has always been remarkable. He always improves the players, the team and the club.
“He’s Basque like I am and he is a manager that I really admire for what he has done in the game. He has done it in various countries at different levels and always been successful. I am really happy for him.
“He’s the most experienced [of the Basque managers] and the most successful one, by quite a long distance with everything he’s achieved in the game and everything he’s won. He’s someone I admire.”
Villa are unbeaten at home since Arsenal secured a dramatic victory with two late goals in a 4-2 win there last February. The way Emery’s man outplayed reigning champions Manchester City in midweek, was a reminder of the powers of Villa Park and just how much they have improved since then.
Arteta did not want to be seen as a judge of Emery’s reign at Arsenal but insisted it should be regarded in a positive way.
“Was it the wrong time for him to go there? I don’t know, but at the time he still did some very nice things here. In his first season they had quite a strong season and he did it straight away after coming from PSG. He carried that on at Villarreal doing incredibly well and now he is doing really well at Aston Villa.
“He has a lot of experience and skill to get the best out of teams. He’s the most experienced and the most successful one, by quite a long distance with everything he’s achieved in the game and everything he’s won.
“Tactically they are really well set up. They do really brave things, they play from the back, they attract you there, they have players between the lines that can really hurt you, they have players in open spaces that are constantly threatening you. Not only that, the spirit that they’ve created, the atmosphere, the intensity and the belief they have at the moment the feeling they can go and beat anybody.”
Arteta will watch the match from the Villa directors’ box after a booking for ‘over celebrating’ his side’s injury-time winner at Luton on Tuesday night. He is adamant he will not stop celebrating any Arsenal success but will do his best to show respect during the match.
“It’s a great place to go. One of my favourite grounds. Very English ground. Great atmosphere. It’s going to be a big chance for us.
“I will have a really nice view hopefully! I don’t think I will be shouting in there. Never say never, because the game can get very emotional. But I will try not to do that.”
Meanwhile, the Arsenal manager is expected to rotate his starting line-up again as he remains without five key players in Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe, Jurrien Timber, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Fabio Vieira.