Arsenal’s 0-0 draw with Villarreal in the second leg of the Europa League semi-final was all the Spanish side needed to progress through to the final against Manchester United.
The Gunners knew going into the game that they had to score and a 1-0 win would have done the job but Mikel Arteta’s team struggled to create opportunities and they exited the competition with a whimper.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang twice hit the woodwork for Arsenal but that was the closest the Gunners came to breaking the deadlock and in a decision that angered many Arsenal fans Arteta removed the captain just seconds after he nodded against the inside of the post.
Former Gunners defender Martin Keown was scathing in his criticism of one player in particular with Thomas Partey receiving the BT Sport pundits ire.
“We thought we were signing the next Patrick Vieira, and he hasn’t looked like that at all. He started with an injury, he came back early and then got injured again. He doesn’t seem to have the legs in midfield, certainly on his own.
“We made a mistake, we should have had two midfielders side by side. Whether or not Xhaka was going to play in that position before he got injured before the game, I think not. I think he was probably going to play left-back.”
Keown did not place all the blame at Partey’s door though he was not impressed with the way Arteta had set his team up and the tactics employed by the manager.
“But we didn’t have the right balance in midfield. Odegaard didn’t want to press the front line to stop them coming out and then in midfield, they were just able to pass by and he wasn’t able to offer that protection for the defence.”
Unless there are a remarkable set of results in the remaining Premier League games Arsenal are set to go without European football for the first time since the 1995-96 season. Something Keown believes leaves question marks over Arteta’s future as a result of this disastrous campaign.
“That decision needs to be made. He’s a young manager. Emery was here himself and was sacked, also maybe he lost the players. It’s not a given you’re going to be successful even with a big reputation,” he said.
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“But he [Arteta] came with a lot of inexperience, he talked tonight about how his semi-final team was youthful and didn’t have a lot of experience. Well, isn’t that then the reason to keep it simple, to not take big risks?
“If you think about last season, they played predominantly with a back five, they did very well to win an FA Cup with that system. There’s been too much chopping and changing this year. Young players do not pick it up quick enough, that’s why at the very big clubs, the likes of Foden take time to settle.
“So, you’re asking our top players – Smith Rowe, Saka – to come in and play them in an array of different positions and you’re doing it in the biggest games of the season. It didn’t work in these two ties.”