Arsenal’s hopes of playing European football next season were dashed as Villarreal sealed a semifinal victory that has seemingly brought an end to the Gunners’ unbroken 25-season run of featuring in European football.
Trailing 2-1 after the first leg in Spain and knowing that victory in this tournament was their only chance of qualifying for next season’s UEFA Champions League, Mikel Arteta’s side could not score against the visitors who looked really determined to hold onto their slender lead from the first leg.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the post with a volley but it was a rare moment of threat that otherwise seemed like a very comfortable game for the away side.
Aubameyang hit the post again with a header later in the game, but they could not find that telling goal that would have sealed their spot in the final against Manchester United.
A bitter pill to swallow for Arsenal fans will be that the defeat came at the hands of former boss Unai Emery. Emery was sacked in November 2019 after 18 months in charge, ultimately leading to the appointment of Arteta.
With Manchester United seeing off Roma in the other semifinal and Chelsea and Manchester City into the Champions League final, Arsenal’s loss ruined the hopes of a Premier League clean sweep in European competitions this season.
Villarreal will face United in Gdansk’s Stadion Miejski in Poland on 26th May.
More importantly for the Gunners, however, is that the result effectively ends their season and their European chances – a big blow to a club that, a little over two weeks ago, was one of 12 clubs prepared to walk away from the Champions League in order to join the proposed European Super League.
Arsenal have been a mainstay in European competition since the 1996-97 season, with most of that time spent in the Champions League under Arsene Wenger, with only the last four campaigns in the Europa League.
However, that run is over now, serving a warning that the Gunners are probably at their lowest point in terms of on-field performances since George Graham was sacked in February 1995.
There were high hopes when Arteta took over the coaching role as his side beat Liverpool in August’s Community Shield, after winning last season’s FA Cup, but what has followed has been a model of inconsistency and they have looked extremely below par.
Arsenal looked too nervous in the first half, failing to open up a Villarreal side that were happy to sit back and defend given their first-leg advantage.
Villarreal’s boss Emery is the undoubted master of the Europa League.
He has won the competition three consecutive times as Sevilla boss (2014-2016) before leading the Gunners themselves to the final in 2019, where they lost to fellow English side – Chelsea.
This is the 5th Europa League final in 9 seasons for the Spaniard and is probably the sweetest since it has come at the ground where he was never fully appreciated or loved by Gunners fans.
Emery won the tactical battle against his successor and compatriot Arteta in both the legs.
His side was disciplined, well-drilled, and extremely well organised at the back. They did suffer a disappointing injury blow, however, as Nigerian star – Samuel Chukwueze – had to be substituted off in the first half.
A sweet moment for Emery, but also for Villarreal, who were beaten by Arsenal in the Champions League semifinals back in 2006 and the quarterfinals three years later. Finally, they have their revenge at a time when it probably has never mattered more for the side.
Arsenal have nothing really left to play for this season except for saving themselves from the blushes of finishing below newly-promoted Leeds United and ending up in the bottom half of the table as their Big Six rivals have surged way ahead this season with 3 of them all set to win silverware this season.