Unai Emery got his Arsenal revenge as Villarreal held out the Gunners to book their place in the final of the Europa League, where they will take on Manchester United in Gdansk. The Spanish side kept a clean sheet at the Emirates, to secure the 0-0 draw they needed to book their place in a European final for the very first time.
It was a sweet return to the Emirates for manager Emery, who was sacked in November 2019 after 18 months in charge. Now he is one game away from Europa League glory, something he achieved three times with Sevilla. However, an inquest will now start at Arsenal, who will not be playing European football next term for the first time in 25 years and sit ninth in the Premier League.
On the night, Arsenal did come close, and showed good attacking intent throughout, but simply could not find the breakthrough. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the post with outside of his right boot in the first half as Arsenal pushed for that vital goal, however they were also well aware that conceding could well put them out of the competition.
Arsenal should have taken the lead in the second half when a cross from the right fell to Emile Smith Rowe at the back post. The Englishman took a touch and tried to place the ball into the corner, but just overcooked it as it went over the bar.
With ten minutes to go, Aubameyang then hit the post for a second time, this time with his head as he saw his effort from a delightful Hector Bellerin delivery hit the upright. It simply would not go in for the Gunners as they saw their European dream go up in flames. Villarreal over the two legs were fully deserving of their historic win and it was a case of the same issues in front of goal coming back to bite Arteta once again.
In the other semi-final, Manchester United’s place in the final was confirmed with an ‘entertaining’ performance in Rome. Edinson Cavani’s wonderful one-on-one finish after a through ball by Fred gave United the lead and with their huge advantage from the first leg, the result of the tie was never in doubt, aside from a shaky ten minutes in the second half.
Edin Dzeko kept up his fine form against United with yet another goal before Bryan Cristante put the hosts in front on the night. It was only thanks to David De Gea that United held their nerve as the Spanish keeper made three almost impossible saves to prevent any further damage. Then, after twenty minutes of Italian dominance, Bruno Fernandes crossed for Cavani to head home and relieve all of that pressure. An Alex Telles own goal gave the hosts a 3-2 win on the night, but in the end, that resurgence wasn’t enough for Paulo Fonseca’s side.
Jose Mourinho has a big job on his hands to get this side competing with Europe’s elite once again. Meanwhile, United will rely on their Uruguayan forward in Gdansk if they are to lift their second Europa League trophy in four seasons, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer targets his first silverware in charge. He has finally put that semi-final hoodoo to bed and now will face Emery’s Villarreal in the final.
However, the big questions will be coming out of north London tonight. Arteta is a manager who lacks experience and has led Arsenal in their worst campaign for over two decades. With the board already under pressure and further protests tonight, frustration will continue to rise amongst fans. Yet if the Spaniard is sacked having failed to deliver any form of European football, it will only paper over the deep cracks that now exist at Arsenal.