Unai Emery says he has great memories of his time with Arsenal and of his former players, ahead of their meeting with his Villarreal side on Thursday.

Villarreal's Spanish coach Unai Emery gestures during the Spanish league football match between Real Betis and Villarreal CF at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville on December 13, 2020. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP) (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)
Villarreal’s Spanish coach Unai Emery gestures during the Spanish league football match between Real Betis and Villarreal CF at the Benito Villamarin stadium in Seville on December 13, 2020. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP via Getty Images)

The Europa League draw set things up perfectly for a couple of narratives in the semi-finals and beyond.

Arsenal face their former head coach Unai Emery, Manchester United take on former players like Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with AS Roma, and then there’s the potential of an all-English final.

Emery will be keen to prevent that from happening, knocking out his former club and heading to yet another Europa League final himself. The 49-year-old insists there are no hard feelings with his old team though.

“I have great memories from my time at Arsenal,” Emery said. “We experienced great moments together on the pitch, like reaching and preparing for the [Europa League] final against Chelsea. Those are great memories but now we are on different teams.

“There are a lot of players that are still there, players who started their careers with me as their coach. Many of the players I coached are still there. I have fond memories of them.”

Emery also had praise for his replacement, Mikel Arteta, suggesting Arteta is a good fit for the job at Arsenal.

“Arteta is putting his own stamp on things – in the way they play, it’s easy to identify he’s bringing back that Arsenal tradition of playing attractive football,” Emery added.

“His first steps as Pep Guardiola’s assistant have helped him to position himself in this new profession which is being the manager.

“Now he has been given this opportunity at Arsenal, and I think it’s a good place to develop because he is much loved by Arsenal thanks to the time he spent in the team.”

Arteta will certainly be a bit more loved if he can achieve Europa League success this season. A European trophy to add to the FA Cup and Community Shield he already has would be a big boost, and qualifying for the Champions League would be just as pivotal.

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Arsenal fan since a young age, now a season ticket holder who enjoys writing, tweeting and making videos about the Gunners.