Unai Emery says he wishes Arsenal were playing his former club Valencia for the Europa League trophy, rather than facing them in a semi-final.
Emery’s side hold a 3-1 lead ahead of his return to Mestalla for the second leg on Thursday, with the English club likely needing to win the tournament to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
The Spaniard had a four-year spell in charge of Valencia and also worked at Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain before taking over at Emirates Stadium last year.
And while indifferent results have left Arsenal unlikely to finish in the top four of the Premier League, Emery is relishing the reunion with his old employers in Europe.
“I was born in the north and I was a player in San Sebastian, Real Sociedad, second division. I use my heart in all different situations,” Emery told a news conference.
“I appreciate my time here, I enjoyed my time here. I have good memories here with all of Valencia. It’s a big team, big club, very good coach. The past, for me, is one part of my career.
“I prefer to play the final against them, for me to play tomorrow here for 90 minutes with my team. It is special, but I have come back here many times and each match is special.
“I am defending the Arsenal team. I will work for my team, for Arsenal and know here it will be very difficult and I know here they have a big history. The fight will be difficult. We want to play matches like tomorrow. With the chance to play one final.
“I am going to transmit to my players the same. Enjoy, be focused, take it like a positive; also play thinking we are playing as our supporters.
“I first competed for this title here at Valencia when it was still the UEFA Cup and was a lesser title than I think it is now. It has grown. It’s an important title for all those teams who are not in the Champions League – and for some who drop into it as a second chance, like Valencia this season.
“It’s a title they all want to win. Giving teams a Champions League place through the Europa league is a fair reward. I have seen that shift. The first time I won it with Sevilla, we didn’t get Champions League access; the second time, we did.
“It’s an attractive title and it’s getting more attractive. We’ve seen Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Sevilla against Liverpool. The demands are high and everyone wants it, as a title, not just as a way in [to the Champions League]. At any club like Arsenal or Valencia, titles have to be objectives [in themselves].
“Arsenal only have two European titles in their history; the old Fairs Cup and the Cup Winners’ Cup, neither of which exist [now], so I have a lot of ambition to win a title.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late goal in the first leg extended Arsenal’s advantage, but Valencia still have hope thanks to their away goal.
Liverpool’s stunning comeback to down Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday offers a blueprint for Valencia, but Marcelino does not feel he can necessarily use that tie as inspiration.
“Each game is different,” Marcelino told a news conference. “We are not going to eliminate Arsenal because Liverpool have eliminated Barca. Our players have to be convinced that they can do it.
“We know what our strengths are. We need to attack. We know that they attack spaces very well. From there we are going to attack.”
Valencia are fighting for Champions League qualification, sitting fifth in LaLiga, and have a Copa del Rey final to come.
“We look at the immediate [future]. It’s all so beautiful, so attractive, that it does not allow us to go further,” Marcelino added.
“Professionals dream of playing in a match and a night like tomorrow. Hopefully we can enjoy Valencia being a finalist in the Europa League.”