Arsenal’s disappointing campaign continued as they crashed out of the Europa League, following a dismal goalless draw with Villarreal at the Emirates on Thursday night.
An injury in the warm-up to stand-in left-back Granit Xhaka saw Kieran Tierney make an unexpected return to the starting XI after an injury lay-off, while both Hector Bellerin and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came into a side looking to overturn their first-leg deficit.
In a cagey opening, the Gunners struggled to really break down the La Liga side’s stubborn backline, while the visitors posed a threat of their own, Samuel Chukwueze’s curling effort well saved by Bernd Leno.
In a tightly-contested first half, the best chance arguably fell to Arsenal captain Aubameyang, the Gabon international’s superb volleyed effort agonisingly striking the post following a Martin Odegaard corner.
While Arsenal needed just a solitary goal to progress, they didn’t exactly look like getting one even as the game entered the second-half, with their tepid approach not inspiring much hope of progression.
The closing stages saw defender Rob Holding twice head wide after super balls into the box from both Bukayo Saka and Nicolas Pepe, while Aubameyang once again found the woodwork, the 31-year-old’s header beating the ‘keeper yet somehow striking the inside of the post and bouncing out.
That effort ultimately proved to be the Gunners best opening of the half, with Unai Emery’s side seeing out the game to clinch their place in the final in Gdansk later this month.
🤯 Unai Emery's last five seasons in the Europa League #UEL:
🗓️ 2020/21: Final (Villarreal)
🗓️ 2018/19: Final (Arsenal)
🗓️ 2015/16: Winner (Sevilla)
🗓️ 2014/15: Winner (Sevilla)
🗓️ 2013/14: Winner (Sevilla)
🤩 He lives for this competition! pic.twitter.com/keCjCgf2U8
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) May 6, 2021
The result means that Arteta’s men will now miss out on Champions League football for a fifth successive season, while their ninth placed position in the league could see them miss out on European football altogether for the first time in 25 years.
Following their exit from the competition, the Spaniard insisted his side ‘deserved to win the game’, yet were ultimately left ruing a handful of missed chances.
“We are devastated. Really disappointed,” he told BT Sport. “We have to congratulate Villarreal. We tried everything until the last minute. I think we deserved to win the game but the details define these ties.
“We had three big chances, they didn’t have anything but they are through. So many things happened to us, and so many players were just trying to compete not at their best.”
The Gunners didn’t exactly have the ideal preparation after losing Granit Xhaka in the warm-up, with Arteta revealing it had a major impact on his side’s game plan.
“It changed our plan completely. We prepared everything with Granit in that position,” he said. “In the first half we struggled with the ball but it’s not an excuse. Too many important players had to define the game but not in their right moments.
“I think we were very imprecise with the ball. We were probably a bit tense. We were much more dominant in the second half.”
Amid the disappointment of their exit, the former Manchester City assistant was asked as to why his side were not at their best across the two legs.
0 – In 2020-21, Arsenal have failed to reach the final of a major European/domestic cup competition for the first time since 2015-16 (reaching the 2016-17 FA Cup, 2017-18 League Cup, 2018-19 Europa League & 2019-20 FA Cup finals since). Fallen. #ARSVIL pic.twitter.com/MHa4sH0RlF
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) May 6, 2021
“It’s various things. The way we started in Villarreal wasn’t good enough. We didn’t arrive here in the best moment with everyone in their best condition. For 90% of them it was their first semi-final and we have to learn.”
“The only way [to qualify for Europe] is through the Premier League so we know what we have ahead of us. Today is a big disappointment because we tried everything.”
Arsenal are next in action against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates on Sunday, before an all-London affair on Wednesday night against Chelsea.