Villa boss Unai Emery ahead of Arsenal: "If you want to play in this level, playing against the best teams in the world in the Premier League, the challenge is very hard"; watch Aston Villa vs Arsenal on Saturday, live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 5pm; kick-off 5.30pm
Friday 8 December 2023 15:20, UK
Unai Emery says Aston Villa's Champions League chase is on but called for calm in their quest for the top four.
Villa host Premier League leaders Arsenal, live on Sky Sports on Saturday evening, following Wednesday's impressive 1-0 win over champions Manchester City.
It lifted them to third in the table - just four points behind the Gunners - having won their last 14 top-flight home games, equalling a club record previously done in 1931 and 1903.
"[Qualifying for the Champions League] of course is a big motivation for us. Every place now is important for us," said Villa boss Emery ahead of the meeting with his former club.
"We can wait until match 30 or 32 in case we are in the top four in that moment, then maybe we can think we are contenders to be there.
"Now, we have to be happy and we have to be focused. The match on Wednesday is finished and we enjoyed that moment with our supporters in Villa Park, but now we have to focus 100 per cent on the match.
"Again, it's a big challenge and a great moment but we're very focused on our professional work for tomorrow."
Emi Buendia and Tyrone Mings are long-term absentees with knee injuries and Emery knows he will have to rotate, with their final Europa Conference League group game against Mostar next week.
He added: "We are adding experiences, and experiences in Europe, playing a lot of matches, four matches in 10 days.
"I'm going to be very deeply analysing how we can face the match tomorrow, hopefully being better in our performances individually and collectively.
"How we finished the match on Wednesday is very important because they did an amazing effort but a hard effort. If you want to play in this level, playing against the best teams in the world in the Premier League, the challenge is very hard."
Arsenal will be trying to become the first team to win at Villa since they themselves scored twice in stoppage time to seal a 4-2 victory in February.
Since then Emery has overseen 14 successive home Premier League wins and will be keen to put one over his former club, with Villa sitting third in the table heading into the weekend.
Emery was chosen to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in 2018 but was sacked just 18 months later to be replaced by Arteta.
The pair both hail from the Basque Country - where fellow coaches Julen Lopetegui, Xabi Alonso and Andoni Iraola also grew up.
Arteta admits Emery was a manager he looked up to as he started out on his own coaching career, saying: "He's the most experienced and the most successful one, by quite a long distance with everything he's achieved in the game and everything he's won. He's someone I admire.
"I followed him since he was in Almeria and for every team he has always been remarkable. He always improves the players, the team and the club.
"He's Basque like I am and he is a manager that I really admire for what he has done in the game.
"He has done it in various countries at different levels and always been successful. I am really happy for him."
Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson ahead of Saturday's meeting between two of his former sides:
"This is a massive football match. It could have such a big impact on the Premier League title race.
"If Aston Villa can go and back up their win over Manchester City and beat Arsenal, defeating the winners and runners-up from last season in four days, you have to give them a chance.
"I know their form away from home isn't great but when you have an unbelievable record like they have at Villa Park, if you can sort out your performances on the road you will win the league.
"A defeat is not the end of the world either. You'd still say they are one of the favourites for the top four, but a win and you have to put them in the mix for the title.
"On the other hand, this is also a huge test for Arsenal. It's a massive game for them. If they can go and get a win at Villa Park and end the unbelievable home record, you will have to put Arsenal as the No 1 favourite for the Premier League.
"I worry for Villa in this game. It could just be a game too far. A lot of work went into that win over Manchester City. Arsenal also have an extra day's rest and that makes a huge difference."
Watch Aston Villa vs Arsenal on Saturday Night Football, live on Sky Sports from 5pm; kick-off 5.30pm