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Unai Emery: ‘Arsenal couldn’t protect me. Truth is, I felt alone’

The former Gunners manager on his struggle with Özil, the language barrier and decisions that went against him

The plane from Baku flew through the night with no trophy on board and landed at 8am. Unai Emery went home to Cockfosters, slept for three hours, then returned to London Colney, where the players started arriving from midday, called in one by one. His first season at Arsenal was over. It had been “very good” he insists – repeatedly, in fact – only to collapse into a limp finish. Three defeats in seven days – against Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester – then a draw with Brighton cost them a Champions League place; that loss in Azerbaijan denied them the Europa League. Now the analysis began, preparations for the next stage.

Every player came, except Mesut Özil. Emery told them his plans and heard theirs: £130m was spent on signings, eight players in, 10 out, excitement building. But mistakes were made, he admits – from recruitment to the departure of all four potential captains – and within six months he was gone. Something had broken, the situation “unsustainable”, and he was sacked. He had overseen the best start in Arsenal’s history and their worst run in 30 years. As it disintegrated, he knew those games he watched alone and exposed on the touchline, toxicity all around, would be his last.

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