In 2016, Sevilla came back from a half-time deficit to defeat Liverpool, claiming a third straight Europa League Cup in the process. As the club celebrated a remarkable turnaround, sporting director Monchi claimed Unai Emery had true Halloween powers: “We have a coach who is capable of bringing a dead man back to life.”
Well, 29 months later, that triple-trophy wizard Emery is still reawakening his players from the grave. 25 of Arsenal’s 35 goals have come in the second half. Not once have the Gunners been ahead in a league game after 45 minutes. The bad spells are followed by good as sure as night follows day.
MORE: Emery vs Klopp and two summer signings face their biggest test yet – Arsenal vs Liverpool big match preview
On that sultry Swiss night in Europe’s second tier competition two years ago, Emery was taking on Jurgen Klopp who had dragged Liverpool to a second Cup final in his first season. Both clubs had finished outside the top six in their respective leagues. While Sevilla had quietly gone about their business to reach a fifth final in 10 years (winning all four previously), the Reds had stormed their way there via a mountainous Toblerone of achievements, disposing of Manchester United, Villareal and, most famously, Borussia Dortmund, in an incredible Anfield surge of passion.
Surely this midweek evening was destined to be the sweet pinnacle, just as Istanbul had 11 years previously? It was written in the runes.
History tells us Los Rojiblancos raided those runes. Having gone behind to Daniel Sturridge’s sumptuous strike, they were constricted by a UFC-style Klopp choke in the ten minutes leading up to the break.. A second goal would have probably been fatal but it didn’t come. The German ran down the tunnel to emote his high energy and enthusiasm, but perhaps to hide his frustration at not having finished off a wobbling opponent
For all the respect that he held for the men in red, Emery knew that Sevilla were proven “winners” of this competition and so it proved. Alberto Moreno’s five-second meltdown at the start of the second half initiated a stunning display of fast, aggressive attack that ripped the Reds asunder. Suddenly, the tables were turned as Kevin Gameiro, Coke and Ever Banega ran amok, bypassing Liverpool’s counter-press and storming their penalty box from all angles. The heavy metal had been mangled by these superb Spanish Transformers.
Leaving his charges on this ultimate high, Emery went to PSG for a new monied adventure after making Sevilla the most competitive team on the Continent on petty cash. Klopp licked his wounds after a promising debut season to try and build a team that would not turn to defensive dust under pressure.
Now the two clash again for only the second time. Klopp has had three summer transfer windows and a vital January one to rebuild the dodgy foundations that were so costly on that balmy Basel night. Where there was Origi and Benteke, there is now Salah and Mane. Where Moreno once roamed and vacated, Robertson storms forward, and, importantly, back.
At the Emirates, Emery has come, ever so slightly chastened by his PSG Champions League capitulations to Barca and Real, to demand a more intensive, cymbal-clashing style to the silent orchestra that Arsene Wenger had managed for two decades. No-one is treated with kid gloves now. Mesut Ozil has been dropped but is also a man reborn, despite throwing his gloves on the floor at Selhurst Park on Sunday. Lucas Torreira is being whispered in the same breath as Patrick Vieira by Martin Keown. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is banging in the goals again. No-one is allowed to be a passenger. Even Petr Cech is coming round to playing it out from the back.
The two bosses are not peas in a pod but their demands are based around an emotional, physical and all-out commitment.” Emery’s football ethics sound pretty heavy metal too: “Fans want their emotions to come to the surface and the only way to make that happen is to give them a team that transmits emotion: intensity, attacking, scoring goals, competing, fighting. That awakens them.” At “the normal one’s” Anfield inauguration, the pearly-toothed mouth promised: “We will chase the ball. We will run more, we will fight more.” It’s not just about the football. These two men are dedicated to the legal fist fight to get there first.
Why, Emery even slapped Alexander Lacazette on the face after Palace set siege to the Arsenal goal at the weekend. This Saturday at teatime, there won’t be a straight face on the touchline as both managers will be running through their personal repertoire of gesticulations. It’s the traffic warden versus the Panzer tank.
Currently Arsenal have conceded the most goals in the top seven – 13 – compared to Liverpool’s four. The lack of pace in central defence will surely be targeted by Klopp as he tries to attack the heart of the Gunners renaissance. The man from the Basque Country must also address the slow starts, because if Salah and company come out of the blocks rampant, then it could be curtains drawn before the second half dawns.
Klopp couldn’t deal with the Spanish Inquisition in Switzerland almost two and a half years ago. However, he has now built a fortress where there was once an open drawbridge to goal. Emery has stopped the slumber at the Emirates and, to coin a certain German’s phrase, is starting to turn the doubters into believers again.
The Spaniard has failed to beat Mourinho and Guardiola in 16 attempts, but this could be a beautiful new rivalry.