Arsenal head coach Unai Emery has revealed he was sat in his hometown with Javi Gracia discussing the upcoming match against Watford when the Hornets sacked the Spaniard.
Despite reaching the FA Cup final less than four months ago, Gracia lost his job at Vicarage Road after a run of seven defeats in 10 Premier League games and with Watford bottom of the table this term.
Arsenal are the visitors on Sunday but it will be the reappointed Quique Sanchez Flores in the dugout opposite Emery as he returns to the club he left in 2016.
Emery is a close friend of Gracia, the former Watford boss was the first person he called when offered the Arsenal job in 2018, and the two men – alongside their coaching staff – often dined together.
But it was a chance meeting in Spain last Saturday which led to Emery being on hand when Gracia’s news was revealed.
“It’s amazing,” said Emery. “I met him, we found each other last week in my town, in Hondarribia, when I was there with my family.
“I was walking and in front of us was Javi Gracia. And in the moment we started speaking about our match, and we finished it knowing he was sacked. It’s a good story, yes?”
Emery has also backed Gracia to return to work before too long, adding: “He is a very good coach, as he showed last year in Watford.
“The club decided, and I have to respect that. He is going to work and he is going to continue his career like he is, like a great coach.”
While he does not have the same relationship with Flores, they have faced each other on plenty of occasions.
Emery recalls when the pair met in the Europa League quarter-final in 2010, his Valencia side losing to Atletico Madrid – who went on to lift the trophy under Flores.
“I remember it,” he said. “Every coach, every player, every person in football remembers some things. I remember we drew 2-2 at home and we drew 0-0 away.
“In the last minute the referee did not give us an amazing penalty for the opportunity to win. In my way, everything that happened to me is something to learn from, for experience.
“Sometimes it’s positive, at the moment more positive, but also negative. I learned from it all.”
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was pleased to see Manchester United get back to winning ways, even if their previous performances have been “miles better” than Saturday’s against previously unbeaten Leicester.
With draws at Wolves and Southampton book-ending a chastening home loss to Crystal Palace, the Red Devils enjoyed a timely shot in the arm on their return from the international break.
Missed penalties cost United dearly in two of those matches, but Marcus Rashford made no mistake from at Old Trafford, with his early spot-kick proving the difference in a hard-fought 1-0 win.
Highlighting United’s team spirit and character, Solskjaer said: “It’s the first time we’ve had to defend for longer periods, and I thought we did it excellently.
“Of course, we want to play better than this. We want to have the ball and dominate.
“But some games, sometimes you play against teams that give you problems and I thought we rode the game out well.”
A second clean sheet in 16 league matches was key to the victory against Leicester, whose fans goaded Harry Maguire in his first reunion since his record-breaking summer switch to United.
“I thought they did excellent today,” Solskjaer said of his centre-backs. “I thought they read the game well.
“I’ve got loads of admiration for (Jamie) Vardy. I think he’s my type of centre-forward, runs in behind, harasses – and you’ve got to be spot on with your decision-making, when to stay up, when to drop off.
“I think both of them proved their worth today and there were a couple of races and Harry did well against him.”
Asked about the chants and jeers aimed at Maguire by the Leicester fans, Solskjaer said: “I don’t think that bothers him whatsoever.
“You’ve got to be that way – and that’s when you play, when you coach, when you manage.
“We don’t get carried away when we win a game that we maybe don’t deserve to win.
“But we don’t get in the dumps when we don’t win games that we should win because the performances have been miles better than this.
“Today we just have to accept three points and wake up tomorrow with a smile, have the day off and relax a bit and look forward to next week.”
Tammy Abraham’s fine goalscoring form continued with a hat-trick as Chelsea beat Wolves 5-2 at Molineux.
Fikayo Tomori put Frank Lampard’s Blues ahead with a superb 31st-minute strike and Abraham doubled the advantage three minutes later.
Abraham, who had netted twice in each of his previous two games, then added a header in the 41st minute and a 55th-minute finish to make victory look all but secure for the away side.
Wolves hit back via an Abraham own-goal in the 69th minute and it was 4-2 in the 85th thanks to substitute Patrick Cutrone, before Mason Mount notched Chelsea’s fifth in added time.
Abraham’s eventful outing concluded with him coming off injured in the 77th minute – but he had a big smile on his face come the final whistle.
In a quiet opening to the game, it was Wolves – who were celebrating 130 years of playing at Molineux – looking the livelier in an attacking sense as Adama Traore and Diogo Jota had crosses cleared.
Chelsea then registered the contest’s first attempt on goal in the 20th minute as a flick by the fit-again Antonio Rudiger, making his maiden appearance of the season, deflected wide.
Willian subsequently fired over the Wolves goal before the visitors grabbed the lead in spectacular fashion when Jota’s challenge on Mount sent the ball to Tomori and the young defender curled in a stunning strike from around 30 yards out.
Three minutes later the advantage was doubled as Tomori played a pass towards Mount in the box, he went down but the ball ricocheted to Abraham, and the striker turned and fired past Rui Patricio.
And after Andreas Christensen had taken the ball away from Jota in the Chelsea area, Abraham then notched his second, Conor Coady unable to prevent the former Aston Villa loanee from heading in Marcos Alonso’s cross.
As Wolves looked to reply, Raul Jiminez headed wide in first-half stoppage time and three minutes after the break Ruben Neves saw a drive deflect behind off Abraham.
The hosts were then tormented once again by Abraham at the other end of the pitch as he completed his treble, bringing down a Jorginho pass, getting past Coady and slotting a shot into the net.
Cutrone just failed connect with a low Jota delivery in the danger zone, before Mount rounded Patricio, only to see his effort go into the side-netting.
Soon after, Wolves pulled a goal back when Romain Saiss’ header from Joao Moutinho’s corner went in via the gloves of Kepa Arrizabalaga and Abraham.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s team then had a penalty appeal turned down by referee Graham Scott when substitute Matt Doherty went down under pressure from Alonso, before Abraham was forced off having made an uncomfortable landing as Chelsea defended a corner.
Wolves reduced the deficit further with five minutes of normal time remaining when Doherty’s shot was parried by Arrizabalaga and Cutrone converted from close-range on the follow-up, the effort being allowed to stand after a VAR check for offside.
The home side had another penalty shout rejected, following a coming together between Tomori and Cutrone, before Mount wrapped up the scoring late on, taking a pass from substitute Michy Batshuayi, cutting inside Jesus Vallejo and shooting past Patricio.
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