Robert Pires believes the presence of Europa League specialist Unai Emery in the Villarreal dugout means the Spanish side hold a slight advantage over their Europa League semi-final opponents Arsenal.
Emery won the competition on three occasions while he was in charge of Sevilla and took Arsenal to the final of Europe’s second tier competition two years ago where the Gunners were thumped 4-1 by Chelsea in Baku.
That defeat, coming off the back of a failure to secure a top four spot in the Premier League, proved a huge setback for Emery, one from which he struggled to recover.
Arsenal eventually sacked the 49-year-old in November 2018 but the former PSG head coach is quickly rebuilding his reputation with Villarreal and is now set to face his former employers and his successor Mikel Arteta.
Pires, meanwhile, enjoyed the best period of his stellar career at Arsenal but also spent four highly-productive years as part of an exciting Yellow Submarine side managed by Manuel Pellegrini.
The former France international believes the tie between two of his former clubs is almost too tight to call, but feels Emery’s experience could prove pivotal over two legs.
He told AS: ‘I have been lucky enough to play for two great teams, such as Arsenal and Villarreal. I was lucky to have the affection of the people and the two clubs, so seeing them now face each other in a semi-final is something special. It makes me feel strange.
I see the situation at Arsenal with sadness, I speak with Arteta and I see that it has not been an easy year. What can save them is to win this Europa League and thus play the Champions League next year.
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‘It is difficult to give a favorite for the semi-final. I would say it is 50-50. It is difficult to get it right. I think Villarreal has an advantage because they have Emery, a coach who has done very well in that competition.
‘It doesn’t surprise me at all that Villarreal is back in a semi-final. We all know the Villarreal project, its president and his idea. What I like the most is that it is a team that has a clear idea, that they like to play good football and that is something that I and the football people like.
‘Everyone knows that if you go to see Villarreal, you are going to see a good team, a team with very good players and that it will surely complicate things for Arsenal.’
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