Arteta’s dressing room demand
There was a collective gasp of frustration from Arsenal fans everywhere when Dani Ceballos was shown a second yellow card against Villarreal.
While he may have been slightly unlucky to get booked for what looked like an innocuous challenge, the inevitable outcome could easily have cost the Gunners a place in the Europa League final.
The predictable scenario was made worse by Mikel Arteta’s post-match comments that he told the Spaniard to be “very careful”.
“I haven’t seen the action again,” he said.
“We talked at half-time to say that we had to be very careful, there was a tackle very early and I was going to take him off but by the time that Gabi was ready to come on, that action happened and he was out.”
Discipline has been a major issue at Emirates Stadium this season, with Arsenal having had 10 players sent off in 80 games in all competitions under Arteta.
That’s twice as many as any other Premier League club since the manager’s first game in charge in December 2019.
Why does it always rain on me?
The obvious explanation for why the players kept slipping up at the Estadio de la Ceramica – both physically and metaphorically – can be put down to the fact that it was raining before the game.
However, the conspiracy theorists out there noticed that it was the Arsenal players who lost their footing on multiple occasions throughout the 95 minutes.
Whether it be Bernd Leno taking his goal kick, or Bukayo Saka falling over in the final third, there were some suggestions on social media that Villarreal had heavily watered the half the Gunners were attacking.
Indeed, Etienne Capoue’s sending off where he appeared to slip would probably cast doubt on such a theory.
There was also a clear difference in the body positioning of either side which saw Unai Emery’s side look much more composed in possession, compared to the rash, leggy touches from Arsenal.
No striker, no party
When the Arsenal starting line-up was announced ahead of the game, there was a sense among fans of a huge missed opportunity.
“It’s the way we prepared for the game,” said Arteta when asked to explain why he started with Emile Smith Rowe as a false nine.
“It’s the decision that I made, thinking that it was the best way to play, but the game was conditioned after four minutes so it was difficult to assess whether it would work or not.
“Conceding from the set piece as well also changed it and after, we had to approach it in a different way.”
Unfortunately for Arteta and his side, the game management throughout was below par and the Spaniard took too long to make substitutions and react to in-game changes.
BT Sport pundits Freddie Ljungberg and Martin Keown were particularly dismayed at Martinelli not featuring from the start.
Ljungberg described the Brazilian as “amazing when he came on”, while Keown went as far as suggesting the “manager doesn’t like him, it’s as simple as that.”.
And the 19-year-old showed in his brief cameo appearance what Arsenal had lacked for most of the game; energy, enthusiasm and a constant will to win.
Xhaka’s solid stats
Much had been made of Villarreal’s attacking threat before the game, with Gerard Moreno scoring 18 goals in his last 20.
But it was Samuel Chukwueze’s duel against Granit Xhaka on Arsenal’s left hand side which courted attention when the line-ups were announced.
Chukwueze is a skilful winger with an abundance of pace and he got the better of the Swiss international for Villarreal’s opening goal.
However, Chukweze only succeeded twice in nine dribbles against Xhaka, with the natural midfielder winning seven duels to Chukweze’s five.
Xhaka to his credit has mostly produced solid performances in an unorthodox position for him, but Tierney’s return to first team action will certainly be welcomed when the Gunners face the return leg next week.