Sunday, June 20

And now what about Arteta? Arsenal coach on the firing line while Villarreal leaves the season in ruins


Match Stats: Arsenal 0-0 Villarreal

And now what happens with Mikel Arteta?

It was all or nothing for Arsenal and their coach against Villarreal on Thursday night and they couldn’t get the job done.

The Europa League was Arsenal’s only hope of salvation after a horrible season in the Premier League, but now they have been left to lick their wounds after a painful exit from the semi-finals.

Trailing 2-1 after last week’s first leg in Spain, Arteta’s team knew they had to find at least one goal against a Villarreal side that ranks sixth in La Liga.

But they couldn’t even do that. In keeping with the remainder of their season, Arsenal produced an unpleasant performance, one that should raise serious questions about the coach.

Villarreal were comfortably the best team in both stages and deserved to go to the final, where they will now face Manchester United in Gdansk.

And Arteta did himself no favors in either game, experimenting with his formations in both, with his team looking confused and unsure of themselves as a result.

The Arsenal manager will have accumulated a lot of credit in the bank with the club’s hierarchy following the surprising success of last season’s FA Cup.

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At the time, the young Spaniard seemed like an inspired choice. He had galvanized a team that seemed lost to Unai Emery and there was a real belief that Arsenal were going somewhere below him.

But fast forward in less than a year and it’s hard to say that any progress has been made.

Yes, there have been big problems on and off the court and players you would expect to play, like Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, have been woefully out of color for most of the season, but that shouldn’t absolve Arteta of criticism.

Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League last season, their lowest result since 1995, and this season they rank ninth with just four games to play.

That’s simply not good enough and now, barring a miracle in the final weeks of the campaign, it seems certain that they will miss out on European qualification for the first time in a quarter century.

The performance in the second leg against Villarreal was a good example of everything that is wrong at Arsenal right now.

There was no quality, no tempo, no invention. It was a team of people waiting for some kind of inspiration, but it never came.

There were chances, with Aubameyang hitting the wood twice and Emile Smith Rowe throwing a single effort, but they were few and far between.

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Arsenal entered the game knowing their season was on the line and knowing they had to score at least one goal to pass.

However, they only managed two shots on target during a boring 90 minutes. If there was a plan before kick-off, it was hard to see what it was.

The investigation will be immediate, but it is unlikely that Arsenal will pull the trigger and decide to leave Arteta before the start of next season.

His appointment was seen as part of a long-term project. There was an acceptance that rebuilding was needed and so far he has retained the backing of those above him.

But that endorsement will be put to the test now. The credit he had accumulated with the FA Cup victory has long expired and not qualifying for Europe will be enormously costly in terms of the summer rebuilding plans.

This was a season that started out full of optimism under Arteta, but now it’s one that has fallen into shambles.

Where things go from here, only time will tell.




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