Inside Unai Emery’s latest project as former Arsenal manager heads to Barcelona

Unai Emery left Arsenal with his tail between his legs – but he has taken his unwavering approach back to a familiar setting.

The Spaniard is back in his homeland as Villarreal manager where he has guided his new club to a strong start to the LaLiga campaign.

The Yellow Submarine came from behind to beat Eibar in their second game last week and will now head to the Nou Camp for Barcelona ’s season-opener after a tumultuous summer in a game available via LaLigaTV in the UK.

Despite his failure at Arsenal, being sacked last November and replaced by Mikel Arteta, the mere presence of Emery was enough to land his new club a big summer signing.

Dani Parejo’s first year at Valencia in 2011/12, overlapped with Emery’s final season, where he guided them to a third straight third-placed finish before departing for pastures new.

The manager left enough of an impression to convince the former QPR midfielder that Villarreal was the right club for him after eight years at the Mestalla.

Emery will look to guide his new club back into the Champions League

“I was fortunate enough to work with him for one season at Valencia, his last season,” Parejo says.

“But also his professional career is absolutely incredible from the very beginning as a coach.

“He’s won a lot of titles, so I think he’s got a very good background. We all know he is a good coach and for me he was one of the reasons why I liked Villarreal as a club to transfer to.”

Emery came in for criticism for his relentless intensity which alienated parts of the Arsenal dressing room.

Parejo, however, reveals he has maintained a similar approach on his return to the training ground.

Instead of seeing problems, he believes Emery’s attention to detail can guide the club back to the Champions League.

“He’s been at very, very important clubs. Top clubs like PSG, Arsenal. His characteristics are how he studies your opponent and he’s very intense when he’s working.

“He gives a lot of value and he really emphasises the very small details. In the elite world this is what really puts you right at the top of the league tables and makes you achieve your objectives.

Dani Parejo joined Villarreal this summer to reunite with Emery after they worked together at Valencia

“We’re all very happy and I’m sure we’re going to have a great season.”

Parejo is one of three high-profile new arrivals at Villarreal who Emery hopes will propel them back into the top four.

After a miserable 2018/19 campaign, they finished fifth in LaLiga last season to secure a Europa League return.

But they are knocking on the door for a return to the Champions League, a competition in which they reached the semi-finals in 2005/06.

With Emery at the helm and new faces in the dressing room, Parejo is ready for a period of adjustment.

And whilst a top four finish remains the goal after a summer in which frailties at Real Madrid and Barcelona have given encouragement to the chasing pack, he insists they cannot get carried away.

Emery will look to guide his new club back into the Champions League

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“We have a lot of new players in the team this season, also a new coach,” he says.

“We have to get to know the way he works and his vision of football, how he wants us to interpret out on the pitch, exactly what he wants us to do.

“I think we’re undergoing a process of getting to know each other. We want to see how he can get the best performance out of everybody.

“Football, you have to adapt very quickly because at any level, any team can beat you and it makes your life a lot more complicated.

“That’s why this adaptation process has to be as soon as possible, obviously we’ve our aim to be in the Champions League.

“To be in the top four is difficult and we’re well aware Real Madrid and Barcelona have got a very high percentage of always being in the top positions.

Parejo says a top four finish is Villarreal’s ambition this season

“So there’s two other places. Last year Atletico Madrid did well and they’ve got a good team again this year.

“We shouldn’t be too obsessed, we’ve got to go match by match. We have to try and get three points.

“There’s going to be lots of matches, all players are going to be important. We shouldn’t just set out goal of being fourth position now, we’ve got to go match by match.

“But we’ve got a good squad so I really hope we are in the European leagues next season.

“We’ve played two matches so it’s too soon but, if we’re being realistic, we’ve got a great squad, great footballers and I really hope that we can play in the Champions League.”

The early stages of Emery’s revolution will face a litmus test at the Nou Camp.

But with Barcelona facing their first competitive game under Ronald Koeman, Parejo hopes they can take full advantage to claim a result.

“To play against Barcelona is always going to be difficult,” he admits.

Parejo is braced for a tough test as they head to the Nou Camp to face Barcelona

“It’s true that they’ve had a very unusual summer, but Barcelona is Barcelona. They have top players, the best players in the world, and they’re also playing at home so it’s going to be very difficult for us.

“This is our third league match and for them it’s going to be our first match. Maybe in certain moments in time, they hopefully won’t have had as much preparation as we’ve had.

“But, as I said, we’re playing against one of the best teams in the world and it’s a home match for them so we’ve really got to play an excellent game.”

There are also question marks over Lionel Messi after his failed attempts to leave the club.

He was again outspoken in his criticism of the club this week after the departure of Luis Suarez and is clearly unsettled at the Nou Camp.

Parejo could be forgiven for wishing to see the back of Messi – but instead he chooses to thank him for remaining in Spanish football.

“Messi for me is the best player in history,” he says.

“What we got to do is thank Messi and enjoy him as long as possible in the Spanish league.

“Fortunately, or should I say unfortunately as opponents, for La Liga and Spanish football, it’s very important to have the best players here.

“Let’s enjoy Messi the way he plays because we don’t know when he might leave.”

LaLiga and Premier Sports are extending the LaLigaTV FREE offer for UK fans until October 15.

Fans can watch ‘All of LaLiga, All in one place’ on Sky Channel 435 and the Premier Player by subscribing using promo code LALIGAISBACK via


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