Arsenal (0) 0 Villarreal (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Semi-Final, Second Leg
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 6th May 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Bernd Leno; Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding, Pablo Marí, Kieran Tierney; Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey; Nicolas Pépé, Emile Smith-Rowe, Martin Ødegaard; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang,
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Magalhães, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Cédric Soares, Calum Chambers, Reiss Nelson, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Mat Ryan, Gabriel Martinelli, Arthur Okonkwo.
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 56%
Referee: Slavko Vinčić (Slovenia)
Assistant Referees: Tomaž Klančnik (Slovenia), Andraž Kovačič (Slovenia)
Fourth Official: Matej Jug (Slovenia)
Referee Observer: Hugh Dallas (Scotland)
VAR Team (UEFA): VAR Bastian Dankert (Germany); AVAR Pawel Gil (Poland)
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restrictions
No margin for error tonight, nothing less than a win (with no goals conceeded) will do. As we know, our season literally hangs on this result tonight, so a top performance from the team is essential. Let’s go!
Sadly, Granit Xhaka was injured in the pre-match build-up, so Kieran Tierney, who may not be completely fit is now in the starting line-up, and because of this, the formation for tonight’s match will change. The visitors started strongly tonight, with Bernd Leno being called into action as early as the fourth minute, when he spectacularly tipped a shot from Samuel Chukwueze over the bar and away for a Villarreal corner, which thankfully went nowhere. Arsenal look very nervous tonight, whereas the visitors look strong and confident, just waiting for a mistake in which they can capitalise on. Meanwhile, the game was merely drifting along, with neither side taking a chance in breaking out and trying something different in order to open the scoring. After twenty-five minutes, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was desperately unlucky not to score, when his right-footed shot hit the outside of the Villarreal post; so near and yet so far. Just afterwards, the visitor’s main striker Samuel Chukwueze collapsed with a pulled muscle, and Yeremi Pino took his place; maybe his enforced absence will inspire our strikers to strengthen the pace up front. We’ll see. With seven minutes before the break, an Emile Smith-Rowe pass found the feet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, whose shot was clumsily saved by the Villareal goalkeeper, then Francis Coquelin commited a foul just inside the Villarreal half, allowing Martin Ødegaard to send over a ball from the subsequent free-kick, but Pablo Mari’s header went wide for a goal kick. In the three minutes’ injury time, it looked as if we were going to score from a well-taken Kieran Tierney corner, but the ball was cleared comfortably by the Villarreal defence, and a minute later, referee Slavko Vinčić brought the first-half proceedings to a close.
No changes at half-time unbelievably, and Arsenal have forty-five minutes left to make something of this season. Within a minute or so of the restart, a clever Kieran Tierney flick found Nicolas Pépé, whose strong shot went narrowly wide of the far post; Emile Smith-Rowe also flicked the ball wide of the post after trapping the ball neatly in the visitors’ six-yard box. At the other end, Bernd Leno made a superb match-losing save from Gerard Moreno, which was a heart-stopping moment to say the least. Every time we move forward, Villareal caught us on the break, and our defenders were starting to look tired, and that situation brings with it errors, which is a concern to say the least. Gabriel Martinelli replaced a fatigued Martin Ødegaard after sixty-five minutes, and a little while later, Rob Holding was unlucky not to score when a Bukayo Saka free-kick found him in the penalty area, and his header went over the bar; he went even closer soon afterwards when his inspired header flew past the near post by inches. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the inside of the post after a superb cross from the right flank by Hector Bellerin, which was his last effort of the match, having been replaced by Alexandre Lacazette shortly afterwards, as was Kieran Tierney, being exchanged for Willian with eight minutes of the match remaining. Time and time again we pushed forward, with good chances created by Gabriel Martinelli, Alexandre Lacazette and Emile Smith-Rowe, but the Villareal defence held firm, unfortunately. In the five minutes of injury time, Eddie Nketiah replaced Hector Bellerin and despite plenty of passing and moving, we exited the Europa Cup at the semi-final stage soon afterwards.
Outpaced, outsmarted and lacking of drive, the truth of the matter is that we were beaten by a team who were better organised, and were focussed on getting into the final by pressing us in all areas of the pitch. With just two shots on target over the whole of the match, we looked exactly what we are; an okay side that is going nowhere fast. Leaving Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out of this (as he still not completely fit after his bout of malaria, but still managed to hit the post twice), our senior players did not step up when needed, and we never imposed ourselves on Villareal at any stage of the game enough to win the contest. With the chances of qualifying for European competition almost an impossibility now (for the first time in over a quarter of a century), a serious review of Arsenal Football Club is needed in the summer, or else years of finishing mid-table could be a fact of life. And this club means too much to too many people across several generations for this to be allowed to happen.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates on Sunday 9th May at 7.00pm (Premier League). Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.