The UEFA Europa League is more often known as the Unai Emery League because he boasts a fantastic record in this competition and right now, after being sacked from North London, he has taken Villarreal to the semifinals of the Europa League and started off with a victory. Still, the threat remains because Arsenal have an away-goal advantage.

This was Villarreal’s fifth European semi-final. The previous four times they had fallen; none hurt more than against Arsenal in the 2006 Champions League. By the stadium, a banner said simply: Vendetta!

For Villarreal, there is a lead but also a feeling of lost opportunity. “They got out of here alive!  We should have killed them off,” said Trigueros afterward.

Just when their European journey and their season appeared over, down to 10 men and trailing 2-0 through goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol, Bukayo Saka won a penalty that gave them hope when Villarreal would visit North London. Still, the kind of display Mikel Arteta’s side exhibited in Spain, was heavily disappointing.

Tactically Arteta was miserable and it seems that patience would run out any time. On many occasions this season, the fans bemoaned their side’s rotten luck, but in Spain, they could only thank the lady luck.

Apart from that spot-kick, throughout the match, the Gunners were nowhere near the quality of their Spanish rivals.

The decision to start with False by benching Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, and Gabriel Martinelli were staggering.

The attack became toothless.

Regarding this decision, Arteta said to BT Sports, “It’s the way we prepared the game and the decision that I made, thinking that it was the best way to play, but the game was different after four minutes.”

“So it’s difficult to assess if it would work or not, considering the set pieces as well changed it and after, we have to approach it in a different way.”

“The main reason [the system didn’t work] was that after conceding the goal, we disorganized ourselves… We didn’t give ourselves the chance to get set in the final third to do what we wanted to do because we weren’t precise on the ball as well so overall, it was not the best.”

“We started the second half with the same players in a completely different way. We played with three strikers sometimes, and we didn’t score any goals many times in the season, so it’s a decision that I made and that’s it.”

Under Arteta, Martinelli is struggling to find a place in the starting XI whereas he is known as the future of the Gunners and is expected to go a long way.

“I’ve been concerned as to why that player is not playing,” former Arsenal defender Martin Keown told BT Sport.

Asked why Martinelli continues to be overlooked, with the 19-year-old seeing just 27 minutes of action in a 2-1 Europa League semi-final defeat to Villarreal, Keown added, “Because the manager doesn’t like him. It’s as simple as that.”

“I’m not there every day; I’m not on the training ground.”

“I thought it was very interesting that [Martin] Odegaard had gone internationally and said ‘in training this is the best young player I’ve ever seen’. And he’s from Real Madrid.”

“So now it’s time to let him fly. Let’s look at the positives. Let’s support him.”

“When he came into the team I thought he did a great job. Not only was he making runs down the middle but he was coming back. He was like a Duracell battery. “

“Keep him in the team. Play him. You’ve seen what you’ve done with [Emile] Smith Rowe and [Bukayo] Saka. Support the young player, that’s where the energy is coming from.”

Unai Emery identified Arsenal’s left side as a weakness and clearly instructed Juan Foyth to push from the right-back position with the intention to create an overload due to Granit Xhaka’s reluctance to step forward.

It was an obvious tactic applied by the former Gunners boss Unai Emery, but Arteta remained less spontaneous about the issue.

The Swiss international, to his credit, wasn’t often exposed by the rapid Samuel Chukwueze but he and Dani Ceballos should have been composed enough during the opener.

The improvement in the backline has started to regress and time and again Arteta is not learning from the mistakes.

Keown believes changes have to be made, with the Gunners being urged to move Granit Xhaka out of a makeshift left-back berth and field Saka in a position that is a more natural fit for him. He said, with questions also being asked of Dani Ceballos on the back of his red card against Villarreal, “It’s about the manager creating the strongest fist he can as a team with what’s available.”

“Saka was picked to play for England in the November World Cup qualifiers as a left-back. We know he’s in the squad as a forward player but that’s how versatile he is so play him at left-back.”

“Then Martinelli can play, [Nicolas] Pepe can play. There’s still plenty of talent but it’s a better XI.”

“And I felt when Ceballos went off what was really telling was we didn’t look any worse down to 10 men than we did with 11. That should tell the manager something and he has to learn quickly because we’re running out of time now.”

“We didn’t want to come here and lose obviously but the way the game developed, being 2-0 down and with 10 men, it’s probably the best result we could have,” Arteta told BT Sport.

“They were two different halves. We started to be us. In the first half, there were so many moments that we weren’t us. We weren’t clear with our high press, we were disorganized, we were not precise with the ball and we didn’t have enough control.”

“We didn’t have enough threat or desire to attack the box but in the second half it was completely different.”


It was an incompetent display and until and unless Arteta does not keep it simple, Arsenal would have to rely on such slices of luck.

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