Unai Emery comes up against Watford head coach Javi Gracia on Monday night and has revealed his fellow Spaniard was the first person he called when it became clear he was in the running for the Arsenal job.
The two friends meet at Vicarage Road on Monday night with both still looking to achieve their Premier League goals for the campaign.
When Arsene Wenger stepped down after 22 years in charge the Gunners were left to find a new head coach – someone to work inside a more continental structure and bring Champions League football back to the Emirates Stadium.
Plenty were surprised when it was Emery, most recently of Paris St Germain, who was selected following a rigorous interview process headed by former chief executive Ivan Gazidis.
But Emery himself had already sounded out Gracia about life as a Premier League boss as his former Real Sociedad team-mate had been appointed at Watford six months earlier.
“So when the possibility opened up to sign here, the first coach, the first person in the football world I called was him,” Emery said of Gracia.
“I asked him some questions about the football here, the clubs, Arsenal and he recommended to me that I come here.
“I also met with (Manchester City midfielder) David Silva in Valencia last year and he said to me, ‘Coach, if you can, come to England, it is the best football and the best atmosphere for you also’.”
Emery and Gracia now work in close proximity to one another, Watford’s training ground backing on to Arsenal’s own London Colney base, with the former admitting the pair and their respective staff have met to exchange views on the game.
“Yes sometimes,” Emery replied when asked if he met up with Gracia away from football.
“For example we had dinner, their coaches and with our coaches, one day in St Albans in September. We spoke about football here, English football and their experience because they were here six months before us.
“It was a good conversation about football because Javi Gracia is also a football man.
“They are my friends, not only Javi Gracia but also his assistant Zigor Aranalde and Inigo Arteaga. We know the assistant coaches and Javi Gracia and we appreciate them.”
Emery has never lost to Gracia as a coach and got the better of his friend earlier this season when Arsenal won 2-0 against the Hornets at the Emirates Stadium.
Since then, Emery has kept Arsenal in the race for a top-four finish while also guiding them to the Europa League quarter-finals.
Gracia’s first full season in Hertfordshire has seen Watford amass a record Premier League points tally and remain in the chase for seventh place and will culminate in an FA Cup final against Manchester City.
“I know Javi Gracia and above all his teams are very organised with a big commitment to helping each other,” Emery added.
“They are very difficult teams to battle because defensively they are very strong and this is now at Watford.
“They are a very organised team, with a big capacity offensively because they create a good movement and a good idea, a good style to take that.
“They are going to demand a lot from us on Monday, but it is a good match and I appreciate it a lot, and I want to play matches against Javi Gracia and Watford because I think they are doing a big season.”
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