5 talking points as disappointing Arsenal miss out on Europa League final

Arsenal failed to become the fourth Premier League club through to a European final this season as they were held to a goalless draw by Villarreal at the Emirates Stadium, crashing out 2-1 on aggregate.

The Gunners were made to pay for a disappointing first leg in Spain as they failed to overturn their deficit on a frustrating night in north London.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck the post in each half for the Gunners, while centre-back Rob Holding also headed over on two occasions.

Mikel Arteta’s side struggled to create many more chances against a well-organised Spanish outfit though, with former Gunners boss Unai Emery getting revenge on his old team.

Here are the game’s main talking points.

1. Luckless Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang narrowly misses golden evening

Aubameyang hit the post twice for the Gunners

He’s had a very poor season by his very high standards, but Aubameyang was left cursing his luck as he struck the woodwork in both halves in the pursuit of a Gunners goal.

The skipper could have been the hero had he turned home one of his chances instead of hitting the woodwork, but instead he was left to reflect on an evening that summed up so much of his and club’s season.

Just not quite good enough.

2. Midfield imbalance costs the Gunners

Martin Odegaard struggled to make an impact on the match
Martin Odegaard struggled to make an impact on the match

Right from the start there was something that just didn’t feel right about the Arsenal midfield, with Thomas Partey left somewhat alone in the centre and Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe asked to effectively play as two No.10s.

Arteta has seen that sort of approach work before when he has coached the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and David Silva, but asking the on-loan Norwegian and the still very raw youngster to do the same always seemed something of a tall order.

They lacked a presence and a personality across the whole midfield – endemic of Partey’s rather underwhelming season – and it wasn’t a surprise to see Odegaard substituted as Arsenal chased a goal.

3. Granit Xhaka’s absence could be felt in Scotland

Kieran Tierney was drafted in at the last minute after Xhaka was injured in the warm-up
Kieran Tierney was drafted in at the last minute after Xhaka was injured in the warm-up

It is easy to make fun of Granit Xhaka. So easy that we’ve all done it several times.

But the Swiss was quietly having a decent little turn of form at left-back for the Gunners in recent weeks, slotting in with a minimum of fuss and actually showing an understanding of the position that could end up prolonging his Arsenal career in the long run.

All of which meant that him pulling up injured in the warm-up here was quite a big issue, especially as that meant Arsenal had to turn to Kieran Tierney from the start.

The Scot has been held back ever since going off injured a month ago, and seeing him here would have perhaps led to a few winces in Scotland, where they are counting on his fitness for the Euros.

He came through this test quite well, but there will be others he’ll have to pass before the summer.

He didn’t quite look at his explosive best, and that will have to be monitored.

4. Arsenal could do with moving on from Unai Emery

Mesut Ozil had a message for his former club before the game
Mesut Ozil had a message for his former club before the game

Yep, he said the word ‘evening’ in a funny way. That’s it. That’s the joke. All a bit tired now though isn’t it?

Much like David Moyes replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, Emery was on something of a hiding to nothing when he followed Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, and sure enough it didn’t work out like anyone had hoped.

Arsenal’s current problems can be dated back to further than his time though, and so the constant painting of him as some sort of comedy character doesn’t really do anyone any good.

He’s a good football manager, he’s going his way and Arsenal are going theirs.

And only one of them is going to the final.

5. Mikel Arteta can’t hide from this

Arteta's side currently lie ninth in the Premier League
Arteta’s side currently lie ninth in the Premier League

They’d never admit it, but there are several managers who have benefitted from the fact that there have been no supporters in grounds this season.

Of course is massively affects the style of the actual football in ways that we never could have imagined, but it also shields bosses from angry crowds and negative reactions to increasingly disappointing results.

Arteta is a likeable man and a manager who you want to succeed, but the bare facts are now that he has Arsenal down in ninth in the table and staring at a first season without European football for 25 years.

Other managers of clubs of Arsenal’s calibre have been dismissed for much less.

One was in the opposing dugout here.

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