LONDON — Arsenal coach Unai Emery thinks his friend Mauricio Pochettino remains fully committed to Tottenham and is “very happy” at the North London club, amid increased speculation that Manchester United will try to hire the Argentine manager next season.
Emery and Pochettino have struck up a friendship after the current Arsenal boss recommended the Argentine for the Valencia job when he vacated it in 2012 — although Pochettino ended up staying at Espanyol at the time. They will renew their budding North London rivalry on Wednesday in the Carabao Cup quarterfinals, and Emery doesn’t seem to think Pochettino will be tempted if Man United come calling.
Sources have told ESPN FC that Pochettino is United’s top target to become the next permanent manager, after the club fired Jose Mourinho on Tuesday.
“I think he’s very happy at Tottenham. I think he’s coaching a very big team with very big players and now they are in the Champions League. They are also in a better position in the Premier League than Manchester United,” Emery said. “I think his performance at Tottenham is very big. I don’t know if he’s thinking about changing [to] another club, but I am looking at him with a very big commitment to Tottenham, and he’s creating a good performance … Tottenham improved a lot with him.”
Pochettino dismissed the reported links to Old Trafford and call them “rumours.”
Arsenal beat Spurs 4-2 in the Premier League less than three weeks ago but are still five points behind Pochettino’s side in the table, having finished behind their fierce rivals the past two seasons. And Emery, who is in his first season at the Emirates after taking over from Arsene Wenger in May, admitted that the challenge of wresting back North London supremacy is a difficult one.
“Now, [the gap between the clubs is] five points. That’s the reality. They are doing this season their way in the Premier League and Champions League very consistently. The demand on us to keep up is a very big one,” he said. “Tomorrow is different because it’s Carabao Cup and we want also tomorrow to show them we are hard and we can come with a big performance and can win against them. But it’s a very big test and also they are coming tomorrow with a very big ambition against us because after the first derby they need to show us and their supporters a big performance. Tomorrow I think is a very good match for the supporters, very big match for the players and a very big match for us, the coaches, also.”
Arsenal once again have a bit of a defensive crisis going into the match, with Emery saying full-backs Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac will both miss out, while centre-back Shkodran Mustafi is also doubtful. The Spaniard reiterated that the club are exploring options in the January transfer window to strengthen the central defence.
“The club is working because if we have one good option who can come and help us and we can do it, the club [has] this possibility in this transfer window. But I am very happy with the players,” he said. “Sometimes we can play also with [Granit] Xhaka or [Nacho] Monreal. Also [Konstantinos] Mavrapanos has started training and running on the pitch so maybe in one month he can come help us. But also if in this transfer window we have one good possiblity to help us and sign him we are working for that.”