Unai Emery responds to criticism of ‘killer’ Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Unai Emery coached PIerre-Emerick Aubameyang during his 18 month spell as Arsenal manager
Unai Emery coached PIerre-Emerick Aubameyang during his 18 month spell as Arsenal manager (Picture: Getty)

Unai Emery has warned his Villarreal team not to underestimate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ahead of Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Arsenal.

The tie is delicately poised with the Spanish side having failed to make the most of a commanding position last week. Having led 2-0 at half-time, Emery’s side enjoyed a further boost when Dani Ceballos was given his marching orders just before the hour mark.

Instead of making their numerical advantage tell, however, Villarreal allowed Arsenal a route back into the contest with Nicolas Pepe’s away goal from the penalty spot offering the Gunners hope of finishing off the comeback at the Emirates Stadium.

Aubameyang, meanwhile, has endured a difficult season following his decision to commit the remaining peak years of his career to Arsenal in the summer by signing a new long-term contract.

After a promising start to the new campaign, the 31-year-old’s form deteriorated rapidly as his team drifted dangerously close the relegation zone.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back on the scoresheet in Arsenal's win over Newcastle
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was back on the scoresheet in Arsenal’s win over Newcastle (Picture: Getty)

Aubameyang rediscovered his touch in front of goal around the turn of the year but a serious illness to his mother preceded a bout of malaria that has further disrupted a difficult season.

The former Borussia Dortmund striker returned after missing five games as a late substitute against Villarreal last week and missed a glorious chance to level the match in the last minute.

Aubameyang was back on the scoresheet, however, in Sunday’s win over Newcastle and Emery believes it would be foolish to dismiss the credentials of a player who won the Premier League Golden Boot under his management.

He said: ‘Aubameyang is a killer. He was, he is and he will always be. He was the top scorer in the Premier League when I was there, he is really good physically and is a killer, like I said

‘He is there to work, to defend the team & give everything for the team, hoping he can perform at the top level & if that happens he is going to be very difficult to stop.’

Emery also singled out another of his former charges for praise ahead of his Emirates return, noting the way in which Granit Xhaka has rebuilt his Arsenal career under Mikel Arteta.

The Switzerland international appeared destined for the exit door following a bust-up with his own fans during a 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace in October 2019, but has again established himself as a key figure under the current manager.

‘He deserves being in a club like Arsenal and he deserves the respect of the people,’ Emery said of Xhaka. ‘I did it back then and I do it now. He’s an extraordinary footballer and double extraordinary person. I’m really glad he’s enjoying at Arsenal.’

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