Gracia: “Emery Is One Of The Best Coaches In The World”
Watch Javi Gracia's pre-match press conference above, or read on below.
By Kevin Affleck
Javi Gracia told his players in the dressing room before Sunday’s breathtaking semi-final that he had never reached a final as a coach or a player. He asked them, among many other things, if they could allow him the pleasure of experiencing one. It says plenty about the respect they have for the Head Coach that they delivered for him big time.
Now Gracia, who you can never accuse of standing still or resting on his laurels, would dearly like it if his team could help him get one over Unai Emery, his great friend from their playing days at Real Sociedad. Gracia has faced Emery seven times and lost six times, drawing the other one. Obviously, the bigger picture is the daring pursuit of a seventh-place finish but if Gracia can break it down to smaller targets, like beating Emery’s Arsenal and enjoying the bragging rights in London Colney, it can help achieve the long-term goal. One game at a time and all that.
“We played together at Real Sociedad many years ago and from that moment we have had a good relationship,” said Gracia. “When we played together we didn’t know we’d be in this situation [playing against each other in the Premier League]. We’ve had dinner together twice [since I’ve been in England] and he’s a good friend. It’s good to see him again. We are very close but our teams and tastes are different. Unai is one of the best coaches in the world – not only in England.”
Gracia lost the game at the Emirates in September but he won the tactical battle. The Hornets had more shots on goal, more shots on target and the same amount of corners. Not many do that at the Emirates. Rob Holding and Bernd Leno were the Gunners’ two best players. Gracia ranks the performance in North London that day as one of the two best this season.
“I remember that game,” he said. “I think we played a good game against United away as well. Against Arsenal we played really well. We deserved a better result. Now we have a chance to show we can do it again. Playing at home we can get a better result.”
A win would come in handy after Leicester surprisingly lost at home to Newcastle. The Foxes have now played two more games than the Hornets but are only one point ahead. In fact, you could throw a blanket over the four teams bidding to become the best of the rest.
“I think it’s more than four,” said Gracia. “The best news is we have to play one game more than the others. We have to take advantage of that chance. We are going to play four games at home and two away.
“In this moment, I prefer to keep the same attitude we had during all the season, trying to give importance to the next game. Our final is against Arsenal – not in May. This is the mentality we will keep and then at the end we will see the position and the points. But in this moment, our final is on Monday. My feeling is that the players are really focused on the next game.”