Arsenal boss Unai Emery admits some of his players were not particularly interested in playing in the Europa League in the early part of the season.
The Gunners will face Chelsea in Baku next Wednesday for the chance to end Emery’s first season in charge with a trophy and secure a return to the Champions League.
Arsenal, who finished fifth in the Premier League, have reserved most of their best performances for Europe this season, with particularly impressive wins over Napoli and Valencia in the quarter-finals and semi-finals.
But Emery, a three-time winner of the trophy with Sevilla, says it took time to convince certain members of his squad to give the competition as much importance as the league.
“My titles in this competition are no guarantee [of success],” he said. “Each match, each year is different.
“The first idea was to transmit to the players this season to go for every competition. Now we are in the Europa League. We needed to feel this competition was an important competition.
“When we started playing in the first matches, some players preferred to play Premier League. Okay. I explained then to every player that we needed the focus on every competition.
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“I am going to decide when you are going to rest or not. I don’t want you to think you might not play in the early rounds and yet when we arrive at the semi-final or the final you say to me: I am here to play. No. I want you here, I want you ready to play, and you will be ready to play throughout.
“Of course, some injuries can stop you playing. But the focus all the season is in this competition with a big focus and a big ambition to do something important. And to feel this competition like we want it.”
While Emery’s future appears secure regardless of Wednesday’s result, the same cannot be said for opposite number Maurizio Sarri.
Reaching the Europa League and EFL Cup finals, as well as finishing third in the league, has not been enough for the Italian to ward off criticism from some fans for his inflexible possession-based approach.
There are growing reports that Sarri could be tempted back to his homeland to take the Juventus job, with Massimiliano Allegri to leave after the Serie A season concludes on Sunday.
“Our life, the life of a coach, is difficult and tough for us,” Emery said. “I appreciate Sarri a lot. He is a very good coach. When you are watching one of Chelsea’s matches you recognise him as the coach.
“You can see Sarri’s identity. He created that at Napoli before here. This year they finished third in the Premier League and they are in this final. I see him and Chelsea as a good team, a good coach, a good season, a good way of playing.
“I learned from watching Sarri in Napoli and now Chelsea.”
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