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Arsenal’s Villan Is Absolutely Our Gain

Having replaced Steven Gerrard as manager of Aston Villa back in late October 2022, Unai Emery’s impact has been nothing short of phenomenal.

He took over at the point many of us felt we were again destined for life in the Championship, and would need a major squad overhaul because of how many players were simply not performing the way they had previously been. The reason for that quickly became clear, and just validated the thoughts many in the B6 fanbase had about Christian Purslow’s appointment.

For those who backed Emery’s appointment and thought better times would lie ahead, they will be well pleased with the enhanced odds they got, especially if they thought a bit more longer term than the first season, and it will be interesting to see what the bookies give us for next year.

The form of players not only improved, many of them found a new level under Emery, and far from battling relegation, we quickly and quietly moved up the top flight table and ultimately gained a long awaited return to European competition, basically on the back of results that had us potentially third in the table (if my memory serves) had the Sultan of Unai had a full season to work with.

There is no denying it was a mixed first period in charge though. Those in the wider world of football expected him to crash and burn like he did at Arsenal – despite not understanding his record at Arsenal with their off pitch issues was actually very impressive, and Mikel Arteta has benefited from his hard choices – and it was a strange summer with players leaving that many fans wanted to keep, and some signings that did not make sense to us.

His doubters thought they were right after the opening day result against Newcastle United, but how soon were they proven wrong. We are progressing well in the Europa Conference League and are through to the semi finals of the competitions. We are also semi comfortable in fourth spot in the English top flight table, and when the media opened their eyes to the job our gaffer was doing, we became outside title favourites for a period.

Now, despite massive injury issues all season long that have deprived us of key players, losses that Emery (unlike others) has never blamed, but quite clearly is now a main driver behind our more recent hiccups in form as players are very close to running on empty, the talk is still Champions League football in 2024/25.

How many fans have noticed we have long qualified for the Europa League as the next step in our development? Obviously the bright lights of the Champions League, and the additional revenue, has to be our aim as it would be a massive significant further boost. But even if we do not make it, stepping from the Europa Conference League to the Europa League is still a major step and would represent a good uptick in finances – and this, of course, remains irrespective of whether or not we can actually lift the trophy this year anyway.

European success, just like fourth place, is in our hands. We are depleted, the players are undoubtedly knackered, but if it is in their heads and their hearts, we will find a way to get over the line, even our form is not currently great.

Hey, we are always told good teams win ugly and take points from games they should lose – we are doing just that, and it should be applauded.

How much expectations can change in 18 odd months eh. In the space of a few years we have gone from survival, to qualifying for Europe and even I had blinked on the fact we have already qualified for a more prestigious European tournament again, as my eyes were only on the Champions League.

I wonder what our expectations might be in another 18 months? Emery has us over performing in the main, he has us finding a strong underbelly even when things do not go our way. Yes, we still fold and have infuriating 20 minute spells, but when we have them, we rarely now lose, we at least hold on to the point.

He has not even had a full 24 months yet, but his second season has improved on the first when you consider injuries and the extra games we have had to juggle.

Que sera, sera indeed. Whatever happens now, this has been an excellent campaign and there cannot be anyone who is not looking forward to what next year might bring.

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