Soccer-Proud Emery returns to haunt Arsenal with tactical masterclass


Soccer Football - Premier League - Arsenal v Aston Villa - Emirates Stadium, London, Britain - April 14, 2024 Aston Villa manager Unai Emery REUTERS/David Klein

LONDON (Reuters) - Unai Emery could justifiably claim he was not given the time he deserved as manager of Arsenal but on Sunday he returned to north London to put a serious dent in his former club's Premier League title hopes by engineering a superb Aston Villa display.

Villa produced the perfect away performance with late goals from Leon Bailey and Ollie Watkins securing a 2-0 victory to go with the 1-0 home win his side enjoyed over Arsenal in December.

While leaving the Gunners two points behind Manchester City in the title race, Villa's win put them three points clear of Tottenham Hotspur in the battle for fourth and favourites to secure the last guaranteed Champions League qualifying berth.

Predictably Emery was asked if the win over second-placed Arsenal tasted sweeter as it was against a club who dispensed with his services 18 months after he replaced Arsene Wenger.

"It's not for me, it's for Aston Villa. Now we have 63 and we are closer to being in the top five. That is the only thought I had before the match," the Spaniard said.

"It was tough because Arsenal are having an incredible season. I've very proud of our work and the focus of the players, being demanding of themselves."

Villa are eight points behind Arsenal and third-placed Liverpool and but for a drop in form at the start of the year could conceivably have been in the title race themselves.

The Midlands Club have made enormous strides since Emery replaced Steven Gerrard in October 2022, turning them from a side in the lower reaches of the Premier League to one that qualified for Europe and is now eyeing the Champions League.

While they rode their luck a little in the first half at The Emirates on Sunday, they completely controlled the second period and barely gave the hosts a look in.

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville waxed lyrical about Emery's tactical masterclass.

"He just designs a game of football and he's patient enough to let it develop," the former Manchester United defender said.

"He is a class act Unai Emery. An absolute class act as a coach. What he is doing at Villa is special. He is one of the best coaches in Europe.

"He got Villa playing in the second half. Arsenal got out-thought by a fantastic coach."

Villa face Lille in their UEFA Conference League quarter-final, second leg next week holding a 2-1 lead and then tackle Bournemouth at home in the Premier League next weekend.

(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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