Arsenal’s hopes of European football next season were virtually extinguished as they were dumped out of the Europa League by Villarreal following a 0-0 draw at the Emirates.
Having lost 2-1 in Eastern Spain last week, Arsenal knew that a 1-0 win would be good enough to set up a second all-English final in three years, with Manchester United booking their place in the showpiece in Gdansk.
However, the north London side failed to find the net on a disappointing night at the Emirates, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming the closest as he twice struck the post before being replaced with 10 minutes to play.
To rub salt in the wounds, the exit came at the hands of former Gunners boss, Unai Emery, with the Spaniard reaching his fifth final in the competition which he won three times during his time with Sevilla.
Speaking after the game, former Arsenal defender Martin Keown was damning in his assessment of Arteta’s side, describing the loss against former boss Emery as an ’embarrassment’, while saying the current incumbent is now under ‘enormous pressure’.
“I think just four (shots on target) in both ties. Villarreal controlled the tactics, Emery I thought was too smart for Arteta,” he told BT Sport.
“Hugely disappointing, they were nervous, tentative, the performance wasn’t there and we shouldn’t be surprised, when we look at the Premier League position, ninth in the table, 19 goals scored here from 17 home matches.
“It’s been a roller coaster season and inconsistency is rife through the group.”
“I think the manager comes under enormous pressure. You start to look at the wisdom of a young manager coming here to take a huge job, a massive job at this football club.
“His inexperience, maybe, has cost him. He’s still here as manager, we’ll have to wait and see what happens on that.
“It seemed to me, though, that this was the rescue package tonight and it didn’t arrive, the team didn’t turn up, whether it was the motivation, the tactics – he was outsmarted by the previous manager which is also a bit of an embarrassment for the owners.
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“Both games, the false nine and today when we changed our midfield completely and it looked like it was brand new to us, it didn’t look like we had the experience to adapt, to change.
“We looked lost. They engaged us high up the pitch, we couldn’t get out, we looked a bit nervy, and it allowed them to play and be comfortable.
“That’s the thing, we haven’t really laid a glove on them, we haven’t gone down fighting. If this stadium was full, they wouldn’t be allowed to get away with that.
“They almost seemed prepared to let the game flow away, I think it does come from the manager, he gives the tactics at the start, it’s the base for the players to play from.”
The 54-year-old was also critical of summer signing, Thomas Partey, who despite high expectations has failed to truly impress.
“We thought we were signing the next Patrick Vieira, and he hasn’t looked like that at all,” Keown added. “He started with an injury, he came back early and then got injured again. He doesn’t seem to have the legs in midfield, certainly on his own.
“We made a mistake, we should have had two midfielders side by side. Whether or not Xhaka was going to play in that position before he got injured before the game, I think not. I think he was probably going to play left-back. But we didn’t have the right balance in midfield.
“Odegaard didn’t want to press the front line to stop them coming out and then in midfield, they were just able to pass by and he wasn’t able to offer that protection for the defence.”
Arsenal – currently ninth in the Premier League – now look set to be without European football for the first time in a quarter of a century, and when asked about Arteta’s future, Keown pointed to the inexperience of both the players and the manager.
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“That decision needs to be made. He’s a young manager. Emery was here himself and was sacked, also maybe he lost the players. It’s not a given you’re going to be successful even with a big reputation.
“But he came with a lot of inexperience, he talked tonight about how his semi-final team was youthful and didn’t have a lot of experience. Well, isn’t that then the reason to keep it simple, to not take big risks?
“If you think about last season, they played predominantly with a back five, they did very well to win an FA Cup with that system. There’s been too much chopping and changing this year.
“Young players do not pick it up quick enough, that’s why at the very big clubs, the likes of Foden take time to settle.
“So, you’re asking our top players – Smith Rowe, Saka – to come in and play them in an array of different positions and you’re doing it in the biggest games of the season. It didn’t work in these two ties.”
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