From William Saliba and Gabriel Martinelli to forgotten Champions League winner – Unai Emery’s Arsenal signings rated and slated

From William Saliba and Gabriel Martinelli to forgotten Champions League winner – Unai Emery’s Arsenal signings rated and slated

Dec 11, 2023

Unai Emery won’t go down as an Arsenal legend, but some of his signings may well do.

The Aston Villa boss hosts his former club this Saturday – live on talkSPORT – knowing a win over the league leaders could take his current club within touching distance of top spot.

Emery had a tricky time at Arsenal, but how did his signings fair?


Emery had a tricky time at Arsenal, but how did his signings fair?Credit: Getty Images – Getty

Emery has transformed a Villa side that was struggling under previous boss Steven Gerrard.

And that is exactly what Gunners fans were hoping he would do when he took over from Arsene Wenger in 2018.

However, Emery’s tenure didn’t quite turn out that way despite going on an 11-game winning streak near the start of his time there.

The Spaniard failed to get his squad to qualify for the Champions League and saw them lose the Europa League final to Chelsea.

Having brought in then-club record signing Nicolas Pepe for £72m and other stars for over £150m combined, Emery was sacked after a winless run of seven games.

However, whilst Emery himself doesn’t leave an incredible legacy, there have been a trio of stars he signed that have gone on to be key parts of Mikel Arteta‘s Arsenal rebuild.

That’s the view of talkSPORT’s resident Arsenal fan and former Aston Villa, Charlton, Tottenham and Sunderland striker Darren Bent.

So, who are these stars and how does Bent think they, and the nine other players Emery signed, fared at the Emirates?

Emery is now loving life at Villa Park


Emery is now loving life at Villa ParkCredit: Getty Images

Denis Suarez (2019 – on loan from Barcelona)

Denis Suarez joined Arsenal in January 2019 on loan from Barcelona until the end of the season. However, he made just six appearances in a desperately disappointing spell for the club.

He has since stated he was playing at only 30 per cent fitness during his time there.

Benty’s verdict: “Miss. I don’t even remember him playing that much. I remember him playing quite a lot in Europe. But yeah, miss.

“He came with a reputation and I was quite excited to see him play. It just didn’t work out from him, so I say miss.”

Suarez now plays for Villarreal, Emery's former club


Suarez now plays for Villarreal, Emery’s former clubCredit: Getty

Stephan Lichtsteiner (2018-2019)

Experienced defender Lichtsteiner joined the Gunners on a free transfer after leaving Juventus.

Unfortunately, fans felt he failed to adapt to the pace of the Premier League.

Benty’s verdict: “Again, another weird one. What annoyed me about Lichtsteiner, he wore a weird number. I think it was an attacking number [12].

“But listen, he came with a great pedigree, just didn’t work out properly for him.”

Lichtsteiner was at the club for just one season


Lichtsteiner was at the club for just one seasonCredit: Getty
Chelsea fan Rory Jennings admits he’d swap Mauricio Pochettino for Jurgen Klopp and believes Unai Emery is a better manager than Mikel Arteta and Erik ten Hag

Sokratis Papastathopoulos (2018-2021)

Sokratis joined from Borussia Dortmund and made 69 appearances for the Gunners.

However, the arrival of Arteta saw David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi preferred at the heart of Arsenal’s defence and he wasn’t a huge hit with the Arsenal faithful.

Benty’s verdict: “Not great again! Miss. Again, at centre-half, he almost turned into a meme Sokratis.”

Sokratis signed from Borussia Dortmund


Sokratis signed from Borussia DortmundCredit: Getty

Lucas Torreira (2018-2022)

Midfielder Torreira arrived at the Emirates from Sampdoria and impressed during his first term with the club – a goal against Tottenham helping endear himself.

However, his second season led him to see a psychologist as he struggled with his lack of opportunities under Mikel Arteta. He was also shipped out on loan to Atletico Madrid, too.

Benty’s verdict: “I liked Torreira, I’m going to say hit! I really liked Torreira, he was like a little jackal in the middle of the park.

“He used to get stuck in. I don’t quite know why it didn’t work out as well as it should’ve done, but I’m still going to say it was a hit.”

Lucas Torreira signed for £26m


Lucas Torreira signed for £26m

Dani Ceballos (2019-2021 – on loan from Real Madrid)

Ceballos spent two seasons at the Emirates and made 77 appearances under Unai Emery and Mikel Arteta. He also played the full 90 minutes in the 2-1 FA Cup final win over Chelsea in 2020.

But overall, Ceballos struggled to adapt, with his former Real Betis manager Pepe Mel stating he didn’t suit the pace and physicality of the Premier League and that he would thrive far more in Serie A.

Benty’s verdict: “I forgot about him! Do you know what, he came on loan from Real Madrid. Didn’t work for him at Arsenal.

“Yeah, miss. Again, came with a reputation, I think he even went back to Real Madrid and won the Champions League. But for Arsenal, miss.”

Dani Ceballos helped Arsenal to the club's 14th FA Cup


Dani Ceballos helped Arsenal to the club’s 14th FA CupCredit: Getty Images

Matteo Guendouzi (2018-2022)

Guendouzi joined from Lorient for £7m, with his former club’s players admitting they were struck by what one described as a starlet who was ‘arrogant in a good way’.

However, following a post-match altercation with Brighton player Neal Maupay, Guendouzi was excluded from Arsenal training and left out of the club’s matchday squads due to a history of issues with his ‘attitude and general conduct’.

Benty’s verdict: “I liked Guendouzi you know. I liked him. But again, he had that moment at Brighton where it almost turned. Again, I’m going to say miss.

“He was close to being a hit, but I’m going to say miss.”

Guendouzi had a mixed time at the Emirates


Guendouzi had a mixed time at the EmiratesCredit: Getty

David Luiz (2019-2021)

Following two successful spells with Chelsea, Luiz made a £8m switch to Arsenal as Frank Lampard offloaded him. However, Gunners fans deemed it as a good purchase given his time at Stamford Bridge.

But even Luiz has since questioned why he signed for the Gunners, with his two errors in a 3-1 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield summing up his failure to adapt.

Benty’s verdict: “Ah, again. I’m going to say miss because he was brilliant at Chelsea and he came and it just didn’t work.

“It was another one of them ex-Chelsea players that came to Arsenal at the back end [of their career] and it just didn’t work. Miss.”

Luiz won the FA Cup and Community Shield in a two-year spell at the Emirates, but Benty wasn't having him


Luiz won the FA Cup and Community Shield in a two-year spell at the Emirates, but Benty wasn’t having himCredit: getty images

Nicolas Pepe (2019-2023)

Nicolas Pepe broke Arsenal’s transfer record when he signed for £72m from Lille.

Perhaps understandable given he had registered 22 goals and 11 assists in a prolific 2018/19 campaign for the French side.

However, with his eye-watering fee weighing heavy on his shoulders, Arsenal fans were disappointed with his output overall and his contract was terminated this year after 27 goals and 21 assists in 112 games.

Benty’s verdict: “The price tag is the only thing that went against him. For that money you expect a bit more. When you look at his stats, they’re not that bad.

“Compared to some people like [Jadon] Sancho, Antony, these guys, they’re not that bad. But miss.”

Pepe was brought in when Emery couldn't bring in Crystal Palace's Zaha


Pepe was brought in when Emery couldn’t bring in Crystal Palace’s ZahaCredit: Getty

Bernd Leno (2018-2022)

Signing from Bayer Leverkusen for £22.5m, Leno proved to be one of Emery’s better recruits and went on to play over 100 games for Arsenal.

It was only when Aaron Ramsdale impressed when he came in after a poor start to the 2021/22 season that he was dropped to No.2 and his exit became inevitable.

Benty’s verdict: “Hit. I liked Leno. When [Aaron] Ramsdale came in it was harsh. I did like Leno but I’m going to say hit.

“Leno was too good to sit on someone’s bench. Ramsdale is going through it now. He’s too good of a goalkeeper.”

Leno lost his place to Ramsdale and soon moved on


Leno lost his place to Ramsdale and soon moved onCredit: Getty

Kieran Tierney (2019-present)

Scotland international Tierney signed from Celtic for £25m and has been a part of Arteta’s Arsenal rebuild, but fans felt his injury issues stopped him from ever reaching his full potential.

Oleksandr Zinchenko’s arrival in the summer of 2022 saw him become second choice left-back. This led to speculation that Tierney would look to leave Arsenal during the summer of 2023.

He’s now on loan at Real Sociedad.

Benty’s verdict: “Hit. He was very good, just couldn’t stay fit. But very, very good when he did play.


Tierney is currently on loan at Real Sociedad


Tierney is currently on loan at Real SociedadCredit: Getty

William Saliba (2019-present)

Under Arteta, Saliba has proven to be the best signing Emery made.

The Frenchman went on loan to Saint-Etienne, Nice and Marseille, and is now Arteta’s go-to centre-back since the start of last season – it’s easy to forget he’s only 22.

Benty’s verdict: “Oh my goodness. Hit times 10! Yeah, unbelievable.

“The best signing that Emery made out of all that list. The best signing, 100 per cent. Hit.”

Saliba joined from St-Etienne and has been a key cog in Arteta's side for the last two seasons


Saliba joined from St-Etienne and has been a key cog in Arteta’s side for the last two seasonsCredit: Getty

Gabriel Martinelli (2019-present)

Another youngster that has gone from having question marks over his head to being a key star is Martinelli.

The Brazilian joined from Ituano and was an unknown entity when he signed for £6m.

But after fast-tracking into the first team following an impressive pre-season on his arrival, Martinelli is now a key cog in Arteta’s team after transforming into a winger.

Benty’s verdict: “Hit. Incredible. What he’s been doing, fantastic. A young kid, he’s dangerous.

“Him and Saka on each side. Another hit!”

Martinelli has come on leaps and bounds under the leadership of Mikel Arteta


Martinelli has come on leaps and bounds under the leadership of Mikel ArtetaCredit: GETTY

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