The Yellow Submarine sank Arsenal and reached their first-ever European cup final.
Nicolas Pépé’s away goal (73’ penalty) from the first leg meant Arsenal would have gone through with a 1-0 score line, but they barely managed to trouble their opposition’s backline. Villarreal’s forwards kept Arsenal on their toes sufficiently throughout the game, with their midfielders Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin – former Arsenal player – making sure the Gunners barely managed to get any kind of momentum going to get even a single goal.
Mostly, Arsenal felt short of ideas and even in the dying embers of the game, with the requirement of just one goal, they showed little sense of urgency in their movement.
From a neutral standpoint, you can’t help but feel happy for Unai Emery. During his time in England, his footballing reputation was thrown to the dogs and he was reduced to little more than meme material only because he couldn’t properly enunciate words in English. While he does have a bad track record with foreign languages, the constant slander of his footballing acuity was, without a shadow of a doubt, uncalled for. To have him sink Arsenal’s hopes with a team that never reached a European final before is in fact, in some ways, the perfect comeuppance the Gunners could get.
Villarreal currently sit 6th in LaLiga. As they try to hold on to a European spot, they could also end up being kingmakers as the season reaches its conclusion, for they play Sevilla and Real Madrid in their last two matches – both teams embroiled in a four-team title race.
As far as Arsenal are concerned, winning the Europa League was their one shot at salvaging what has otherwise been a dismal season of below-par performances. They would not only have won a third trophy under Mikel Arteta, they would also have qualified for next year’s Champions League group stages.
With Europa League now gone, their league position will once again take centre stage. Arsenal currently sit 9th in the Premier League table, and while they can mathematically secure a top 7 finish, given the close-knit fight above them and given their own performances, it is almost certain they will miss out on European football next season – first time in a quarter of a century.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Mikel Arteta. In his one and a half years of management he has come off as a strong-minded individual who seems to have a strong footballing foundation and a lot of ideas. The Arsenal job, however, was always going to be a tough ask, and while he did win two trophies with them, there is no doubt that the team have regressed over the past few months. Arsenal fans have been rallying against their club’s owners hard since the Super League debacle. It will be interesting to see if the UEL exit turns them against Arteta as well.