Unai Emery is under no illusion as to the size of the task that awaits his Arsenal side ahead of the Europa League semi-final against Valencia at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Emery must try to build the confidence in his team after they suffered three defeats on the bounce in the Premier League against Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester City — reverses that severely dented their hopes of finishing in the top four of the top-flight and securing a Champions League spot in the process.
But getting past the Spaniards will keep alive the hope of winning the Euro prize and that in itself would hand the Gunners a Champions League place. Being a former Valencia coach, Emery knows all about the opponents.
He told the club’s official website: “They’re a big team with a great history and also a lot of experience. This semi-final is 50-50. I think we can enjoy this round and I think for the two teams it’s a very important moment. We have respect between us. A big respect.
“I was there for four years and I enjoyed it. I worked, I learned, I had some very good moments. I also have a lot of friends there, my son and some other big parts of my life. Our focus is the next match and only thinking of this first leg. But also thinking that we are going to play next week, out there, the second leg.
“We need to be very focused on this round. We are also in the Premier League with our possibilities for top four. I think we are in a great moment to enjoy working, working hard, focusing hard on our mindset to each moment and each moment is to do the training, then the match. I think the players are very concentrated and very focused for that.”
Emery prefers to consign the recent losses to history and fully focus on the present — starting with the visit of head coach Marcelino Garcia Toral’s side.
He added: “it’s about the present. Football in the past you can learn from, you can have to take experience but after is to do a new way. A new way with new history and I want to create a new history here with all the competitions. Now it’s the Europa League. The Europa League is our way for one title and our way for the possibility to be in the Champions League.
“We have now two possibilities. One is in the Premier League and we have this possibility not in our hands, but we have a really good possibility if we win and secondly, we have the Europa League. We want to win and we want to enjoy, to create this semi-final like something important.”
Emery is looking to the Arsenal supporters to create a big atmosphere to try to help his side gain an advantage ahead of the away leg next Thursday, May 9. He said: “We are looking forward to playing, to being with our supporters, to doing the first leg’s 90 minutes with a big performance and with a good result. But we know it’s going to be very difficult also. I think we need all. We need the players, we need spirit, we need energy, we need our supporters.”