May 7 – Arsenal’s season came crashing down on Thursday with a damaging exit from the Europa League, following a goalless draw against Villarreal in their second-leg semi-final, raising the spectre of no European football for the first time in a quarter of a century for the North London club.
Mikel Arteta and his team reached a new nadir by slumping to a 2-1 aggregate defeat to Unai Emery and Villareal. The loss against his predecessor was arguably the lowest point of Arteta’s fledgling coaching career, but more than simply elimination from Europe’s second tier club competition it was the manner and ethos of capitulation that ill befitted Arsenal.
The closing exchanges of the match and two attempts from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang aside, Arsenal were lethargic in what had been been coined the match of the season for the London club. The entire team was invisible and the Spanish visitors were content to hand the initiative to Arsenal, who despite a phalanx of attacking players and substitutes, offered little danger near the goalmouth.
The London club need to improve in defence, midfield and attack, summing up a dismal season under Arteta, who had been hailed as the new Pep Guardiola upon his appointment at the Emirates Stadium, but has failed to deliver meaningful progress at Arsenal. He mismanaged the first leg in Spain and couldn’t elicit a reaction from his players in the return fixture. In the domestic league table, Arsenal sit in 9th spot and have little hope of qualifying for a European competition.
For Emery, victory represented some form of vindication after his torrid spell at Arsenal. The Basque coach will be competing in his fifth Europa League final, having won the competition three times with Sevilla. In the 2018-19 season, his Arsenal were dismantled 4-1 by Chelsea in an all-English Europa League final in Baku.
Following Arsenal’s exit, there won’t be a quartet of English clubs in European finals this year. Instead, Villarreal will take on Manchester United in Gdansk, Poland, at the end of the month. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reached his first European club final as a coach after a spectacular 3-2 defeat away to AS Roma, but it was still enough to complete their ‘Italian job’ after United had won the first leg in commanding fashion, 6-2. In 2017, United last won the competition defeating Ajax 2-0 in a subdued final in Stockholm. They will be marginal favourites again when they take on Villarreal.
Tickets for the Europa League final in Poland are on sale on the UEFA website until Friday afternoon, with ticket prices ranging from €40 to €130. Both finalists are set to receive 2,000 tickets.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1634563560labto1634563560ofdlr1634563560owedi1634563560sni@o1634563560fni1634563560