Villarreal boss Unai Emery came back to haunt Arsenal as the Spanish side held out for a 0-0 draw at the Emirates on Thursday night to set up a Europa League final against Manchester United with a 2-1 victory on aggregate.
Defeat means the Gunners will miss out on Champions League football for a fifth consecutive season with the pressure building on Emery’s successor Mikel Arteta. Sitting ninth in the Premier League, Arsenal are now on the verge of failing to qualify for European football for the first time in 26 years. “We are devastated,” said Arteta. “We tried everything until the last minute. I think we deserved to win the game but the details define these ties.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang twice hit the post for Arsenal, while Emile Smith Rowe sliced a glorious chance wide early in the second-half. Villarreal’s first European final prevented a clean sweep for Premier League sides across the Champions League and Europa League.
The Yellow Submarine will take on United in Gdansk on May 26, three days before Manchester City face Chelsea in the Champions League final on May 29.
That clash will be Emery’s fifth Europa League final, having won the competition three times with Sevilla and taking Arsenal to the final in his only full season in charge at the Emirates. The Spaniard was sacked after just 18 months as Arsene Wenger’s successor, but again showed his experience at this level by guiding his side through despite vastly inferior resources to his former club.
“I’m very proud because we know it is very important for us and Arsenal are a very good team,” said Emery. “Today we are thinking to enjoy this moment and then we prepare the match against Manchester United. We deserve to play this final and we will show our best performance. We want to fight against Manchester for this title.”
Dani Parejo’s free-kick that dipped onto the roof of the net was Villarreal’s most dangerous effort as they controlled the first-half without threatening to score the vital away goal.
Aubameyang has had a difficult season since signing a bumper three-year contract in September that reportedly made him the highest paid player in the Premier League.
The Arsenal captain has only recently returned from a spell out with malaria, but was inches away from proving his worth as his header came back off the inside of the post and bounced to safety 10 minutes from time.
Arteta’s decision to remove Aubameyang moments later will be questioned as the home side rarely threatened in the closing stages to end their season with a whimper. “He was outsmarted by the previous manager, which is a bit of an embarrassment,” said former Arsenal defender Martin Keown.
Man United into final despite defeat in Rome
Manchester United advanced to the showdown with Villarreal in Gdansk 8-5 on aggregate despite losing 3-2 to Roma in their semi-final second leg at the Stadio Olimpico.
United coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was angry about his side’s display, admitting that had it not been for a sensational second half in the first leg which gave them 6-2 lead they could very well have been dumped out by a spirited Roma team who created, and wasted a hosted of opportunities in Rome.
“The second half today was disappointing, very, very poor, but we’re in the final,” he said. “We played one very, very good half at Old Trafford which has taken us through. I’m disappointed we lost, especially the way we played in the second half. It could easily have been 8-6 to them. It was a strange game. We kept giving them the ball but luckily we have one of the best keepers in the world. We are in the final and are looking forward to 26 May.”
Cavani’s goals in the 39th and 68th minutes ensured United’s place in the final, the Uruguayan having also struck a double at Old Trafford.
Roma had gone ahead on the night midway through the second half with goals from Edin Dzeko and Bryan Cristante in a three-minute spell, and Alex Telles’ own goal gave the hosts a second-leg win with seven minutes to go.
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