Arsenal v West Ham: Old foes reunited as Unai Emery and Manuel Pellegrini meet again with new clubs

Frank Dalleres
Follow Frank
Emery (left) and Pellegrini (right) last met in the 2015-16 Champions League (Source: Getty)
amiliarity will be in the air at Emirates Stadium on Saturday when West Ham visit Arsenal.

Most eyes will be trained on Jack Wilshere, who is set to face the club at which he spent his formative footballing years for the first time since his summer switch from north to east London, while Spanish forward Lucas Perez, who made the same move, could also feature.

But on the touchline there will be the rekindling of another long-standing relationship: between Arsenal head coach Unai Emery and West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Read more: Trevor Steven: Unai Emery has to get his Arsenal team in sync

Emery and Pellegrini are well known to each other from numerous battles in Spanish football. This will be the 13th match between teams they have helmed, which include Real Madrid, Manchester City, Sevilla, Villarreal and Valencia.

Pellegrini has the upper hand in their head-to-head record, with six wins to three for Emery – plus three draws. Most recently they met in the 2015-16 Champions League, when the Chilean’s City team beat Emery’s Sevilla home and away in the group stage.

The two men also share a number of similarities, born largely out of their respective career paths. Both are from the studious end of the coaching spectrum and have applied their philosophies to work their way up from modest sides to Europe’s biggest clubs.

Emery served his apprenticeships with third-tier Lorca and second division Almeria before making his name at Valencia, where he finished third in La Liga three years in a row.

He cemented his burgeoning reputation at Sevilla, leading them to a hat-trick of Europa League triumphs and earning a shot at delivering the Champions League glory craved by Paris Saint-Germain.

Chelsea v Arsenal - Premier League
Emery has got off to a testing start at Arsenal, losing both games (Source: Getty)

Pellegrini started out in his native South America but it was his spells with Villarreal, who he took to a Champions League semi-final – losing to Arsenal, ironically, in 2006 – and second place in La Liga that alerted Real Madrid.

After an ill-fated stint at the Santiago Bernabeu, he revived his career at Malaga before heading to Manchester City in 2013 for his first taste of English football.

Both have enjoyed league titles overseas, only for those achievements to be questioned.

Pellegrini won the Premier League in his first season at City, who scored a record 151 goals in all competitions, yet failed to repeat the feat in his next two campaigns and left the club having been considered to have delivered only the minimum.

Emery led PSG to Ligue 1 last term, although his failure to do so in his first year in France and the club’s vast financial resources meant that he too had barely broken par.

West Ham United v AFC Bournemouth - Premier League
Pellegrini has also suffered successive defeats in his opening games (Source: Getty)

The similarities don’t end there. They have both had spells in relative footballing backwaters: Emery in Russia with Spartak Moscow, where he lasted just five months before being sacked, and Pellegrini in the Far East with Hebei China Fortune, from where West Ham lured him.

The pair also share a chequered history with Jose Mourinho, having crossed swords with him during the Manchester United manager’s time in Madrid.

A highlight of Pellegrini’s simmering feud with the Portuguese was his 2015 assertion: “I have no interest in analysing him as a person.” Emery, meanwhile, accused Mourinho of “crying” about refereeing decisions in 2010.

The most pertinent similarity on Saturday is that they have both lost their first two matches with their new teams, leading to early questions about the wisdom of their appointments.

Emery’s Arsenal followed up a 2-0 reverse at home to City on the opening weekend with a 3-2 defeat at Chelsea last weekend, while Pellegrini’s West Ham tenure began with a 4-0 drubbing at Liverpool and failed to pick up in a 2-1 loss against Bournemouth.

There is a key difference between the men, however. At 46, Emery is still probably in the middle of his managerial career and as such has more at stake than Pellegrini, who is 18 years his senior.

In his early statements at Arsenal, Emery has made clear how ambitious he is. The Basque wants to get the Gunners back in the Champions League and challenging for major honours.

He must also know that success on that front might open the door to a club on an even higher plane, another shot at a team with more realistic aspirations of ruling Europe.

Pellegrini, on the other hand, appears to be amassing a retirement fund with a series of roles whose chief appeal seems to be the size of the salary.

His West Ham contract is believed to be worth £10m a year, similar to his pay packet in China and greater than the £6m Arsenal are thought to be paying Emery.

Whether that makes any difference to their clubs’ seasons remains to be seen, but either way the long Emery-Pellegrini rivalry looks to be in its twilight years.

Related articles