Arsenal boss Unai Emery phoned Javi Gracia first when he took Emirates job… now his friend at Watford could trash his first Premier League season
- Arsenal resume battle for the top four with Watford clash on Monday night
- They head to Vicarage Road with inconsistent away form hanging over them
- Arsenal recorded an impressive Europa League win over Napoli last week
When Unai Emery was offered the Arsenal job the first man he phoned was Javi Gracia. On Monday night, Gracia can have a big say on how his friend’s first year in the job pans out.
Emery and the Watford boss both played for Real Sociedad and despite spending just one year in San Sebastian together, they remain close. But there will be no room for niceties when Arsenal travel to Vicarage Road.
It is a crucial clash in the north London side’s push for the top four with Troy Deeney — who accused Arsenal of lacking ‘cojones’ last season — and the rest of Watford’s FA Cup finalists standing in their way. Deeney added that when he faces Arsenal, he thinks: ‘Let me whack the first one and see who wants it.’
Unai Emery’s first season in England could heavily turn on a match against friend Javi Gracia
After an impressive win over Napoli, Premier League action resumes against Watford
No love lost on the pitch, but if Arsenal do achieve their goals this campaign, their fans will have Gracia to thank for Emery’s arrival. ‘When the possibility opened up to sign here, the first coach, the first person in the football world I called was him,’ Emery said.
‘I asked him some questions about the football here, the clubs, Arsenal and he recommended to me that I come here.’
That relationship has continued since Emery joined Gracia in England: ‘We had dinner, their coaches and with our coaches, one day in St Albans in September.
‘We spoke about football here, English football and their experience because they were here six months before us.
‘It was a good conversation about football because Javi Gracia is also a football man.
‘They are my friends, not only Javi Gracia but also his assistant Zigor Aranalde and Inigo Arteaga. We know the assistant coaches and Javi Gracia and we appreciate them.’
Gracia and Watford are on a high after qualifying for the FA Cup final last weekend
The Gunners need three points to keep up the pace with the rest of the top four chasing pack. Yet they have only picked up a win in one of their last 11 league games on the road.
Their away day woes are not the only issue, with Arsenal facing a brutal run of three matches in seven days.
There is only a gap of two days between the visit to Hertfordshire and their trip to face Napoli in their Europa League second leg and Emery is not delighted with the scheduling: ‘I would prefer to play Sunday.
‘But also, if we played Sunday it is shorter from this Thursday but it is better because we played at home Thursday and away to Watford on Monday.
‘If it was Sunday, there is no travel issue it is the same as playing here so I prefer but it is not my decision.’
Emery says he will have to rotate his side as he balances demands of European football
The Spaniard admits he will have to rotate his side due to the schedule but will not prioritise either competition in his bid to qualify for the Champions League: ‘It is not one over the other.
‘I think they are two ways we can compete and be ready for both. We can achieve our target through the Europa League or Premier League.
‘We can lose in two directions or we can win through both competitions.’
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