It’s been 18 years since Arsenal last won the Premier League title, and they’ve arguably never been further away from it than they are now.
Yet reports suggest that manager Mikel Arteta is to be rewarded with a brand new contract at the Emirates Stadium as he heads towards the final year of his current deal.
But why? What has he done to earn himself a new contract with the club?
The answer, quite simply, is nothing really.
Arteta has brought through Emile Smith Rowe as a first-team regular and regardless of the reason why he brought him into the team, he deserves credit for keeping him and making him a key player.
He’s recruited relatively well too with all of Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard regulars in the side and playing relatively well.
But he’s managed to cause a rift with a multitude of players including William Saliba, Matteo Guendouzi, Nicolas Pepe, Bernd Leno and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. That’s not including the ones he forced to leave the club too on a permanent basis.
He’s also overseen the worst start to a season in Arsenal history, their first season of no European football in over 25 years and they currently sit outside of the top four once again.
They had a decent run in mid-season where it looked like things were going well, and they had a very impressive performance against Man City. But ultimately they lost that game.
They had a solid 0-0 draw at Anfield after going down to ten men. But ultimately, they were eliminated after losing the second leg.
They struggle to score goals on a regular basis, defensively aren’t exactly solid, are nowhere near getting back into title contention and are out of all the cup competitions in January.
Arsene Wenger was forced out for less than that and he was their most successful manager ever. Unai Emery was forced out because he missed out on top four and made the Europa League final, then went on a bad run the following season.
But Arteta is set for a brand spanking new contract and likely a pay-rise to boot.
Arsenal are a club who have lost their vision of being one of the best and have instead become a team just happy to take part. They’ve accepted mediocrity and are now rewarding it.
Arsenal have announced that they have stripped Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of the club captaincy following a string of disciplinary breaches.
The striker had been captain since Granit Xhaka was stripped of the role following an on-field bust up with fans in November 2019.
The club have also announced that the Gabon international won’t be available for Wednesday’s fixture against West Ham United as part of his disciplinary action.
Manager Mikel Arteta left Aubameyang out of the squad for the weekend win over Southampton due to disciplinary reasons, but refused to expand on that and after the game wouldn’t give any assurances over the role.
It’s been reported by The Athletic that Aubameyang’s most recent disciplinary breach was his third since Arteta’s arrival, which has been the last straw on the camel’s back.
It’s believed that Aubameyang returned to France to bring his mother to the UK but returned later than originally planned, which meant he then couldn’t train due to UK quarantine rules.
The club deemed this a step too far and he has now been removed from his position as captain.
That surely now will see his future at the club plunged into doubt, with the January transfer window just a couple of weeks away and his first-team place no longer secured.
A new captain is yet to be announced but it would seem logical that the armband will go to Alexandre Lacazette, who currently serves as the vice-captain for the club.
The decision to strip Aubameyang is a big show of faith to Arteta by the club and a message to all the players in the dressing room that he is in charge for the long haul.
Aubameyang is a hugely influential figure in the dressing room so this decision has the potential to back-fire and cause a huge split, but it’s clear that Arteta is the boss.
Arsenal were well beaten on Monday night by an Everton side that earned their first victory since September thanks to an injury time Demarai Gray goal.
Everton thought they’d taken the lead in the first half thanks to Richarlison, only for VAR to rule it out for offside and Martin Odegaard to score minutes later on the stroke of half-time.
The Gunners were conservative in the second half and Everton’s pressure continued to build, with the Brazilian forward having another goal ruled out for a marginal offside by VAR.
Richarlison finally got himself on the scoresheet with 11 minutes of normal time to go when Gray’s strike from the edge of the box bounced off the crossbar, and the 24-year-old reacted first with a brilliant header over Aaron Ramsdale into the corner.
Arsenal finally stopped time wasting and looked for a goal, but it was Gray’s absolute screamer in the 92nd minute that sealed all three points for the Toffees.
For Arsenal, it was more of the same issues under Mikel Arteta that we’ve see for the last two years. The club had an idea of how they wanted to play but couldn’t execute it to a high level, then crumbled under pressure.
Arteta surprised many by bringing Granit Xhaka back into the team after two months out and despite clearly being tired after around 65 minutes and getting booked, he played the entirety of the game.
Kieran Tierney started the game and was brought off after 65 minutes, with Nuno Tavares coming in and struggling in his cameo performance while the rest of the team didn’t have a good night at all.
Thomas Partey is supposed to be the anchor of the midfield and the metronome with his passing ability, but he is seriously struggling with the pace of the Premier League and he lost 9/14 duels on the night to contribute to Arsenal’s woes.
Arsenal have a decent squad, and while they may be lacking some x-factor in the attacking areas it’s not a big enough deficiency for them to be performing at the low levels that they are doing consistently.
He is struggling to get the best out of senior players, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang failing to hold down a regular place in the team and looking unhappy, while the young players are having far too much reliance placed upon them in the side.
Ultimately, this side just isn’t very good. They aren’t coached particularly well, they don’t have anyone they can rely on to dig them out of a hole and there isn’t really a silver lining in sight.
Arsenal aren’t good and the sooner the fans and the board realise that, the better for the club.
With Newcastle United set to complete their task of appointing a new manager this week, the Premier League’s managerial hotseats have just become even more full.
It seems as though Eddie Howe will be the man to fill the void at St James’ Park, after Unai Emery sensationally rejected their offer after being interested in a move earlier in the week. But with 19 other managers in a job currently, where do they all rank?
I’ve ranked each manager and explained (briefly) my reasoning for their position based on preference of style, achievements and coaching of players.
19. Daniel Farke – Norwich
Twice Farke has come up to the Premier League with his Norwich side, and twice he’s been absolutely battered every time.
The German has a style but it seems to be more accustomed to the Championship, where his side is one of the big dogs and he can’t turn that into anything substantial at the top level, so he must go at the bottom.
18.Sean Dyche – Burnley
Maybe controversial for him to be so low, but the style of football grinds me and he’s got nothing other than scraping survival year on year to show for it.
The one season he tried to expand a little saw Burnley dumped out of the Europa League before the group stages even started. The football is too old school for me, but he gets results so it keeps him off the bottom.
17. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – Manchester United
Another potentially controversial selection, the Manchester United boss is in the relegation spots here.
No obvious style of play, no defensive awareness about his sides and results only tend to come because of the quality of player he has at his disposal. If he got another Premier League job it would be in this region of the table.
16.Ralph Hassenhuttl – Southampton
This is a weird one for the Austrian, because he’s clearly got something about him.
Hassenhuttl likes to play expansive, attacking football but while his ideas are the right ones he seems to struggle with the actual execution of them. 9-0 defeats in consecutive seasons tells me he’s too stubborn to adapt too, so he slots in towards the bottom.
15. Claudio Ranieri – Watford
It seems harsh to have a Premier League winner this far down the rankings, but times have moved and Ranieri isn’t what he once was.
The ‘tinkerman’ tends to play counter-attacking football but it all seems very freestyled when watching his sides and defensively they’ve never been the best. His achievements earn him this height though.
14.Mikel Arteta – Arsenal
Hear me out. Arteta’s Arsenal are showing improvements in recent months now that he doesn’t have many injuries, but I’m still not convinced.
They seem organised enough for now, but the discipline issues remain and whenever they concede a goal they look frail mentally. He’s young in his career and could certainly move up the list in years to come but for now, he’s low down in my ranking of bosses.
13. Bruno Lage – Wolves
Not a lot of experience for the Portuguese manager here, but what he did at Benfica really stands out to me.
Plenty of focus on attacking football, using different player profiles to get what he needs from his teams. They play exciting football and score goals and the fact he has switched Wolves around as quickly as he has is testament to his coaching skills. Like Arteta, he could move up the ranks over the years.
12. Dean Smith – Aston Villa
Smith may have hit his ceiling with Aston Villa now, but the job he has done to this point is nothing short of excellent.
He took over in the Championship, got them to play front-foot, attacking football while also setting up a good defensive base and was rewarded with a cup final and a top half finish. He’s probably at his peak as a coach now, which means mid-table is where he sits.
11. Patrick Vieira – Crystal Palace
There may be a bit of recency bias in this pick, but the job Vieira is doing at Selhurst Park is incredibly good right now.
He struggled at Nice after moving from the MLS but the way in which he has transformed the squad’s way of playing in such a short space of time is delightful. Possession football with young and flairy players, Vieira’s stock is only going to rise.
10.Thomas Frank – Brentford
Honestly, I can’t praise this man enough. The job he has done since taking over at Brentford has been tremendous, but the transition they have made into Premier League football is even better.
They play attacking football, with a mix of possession and going direct, while they’re brave with playing out from the back and strong defensively. I fully expect them to stay up and think Frank will be on a lot of club’s radars higher up the league should the managerial merry-go-round start later this season.
9. Graham Potter – Brighton & Hove Albion
Not a big name in the slightest but the job he has done since coming to English football has not gone unnoticed.
Potter’s sides play excellent possession football with a major focus on control and scoring goals, just like a Pep Guardiola side. He’s still young in his career to rank him much higher than this, but you have to assume that with better players he gets better results, so he’s one to keep an eye on.
8.Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds United
Possibly the most gung-ho manager in all of football, Bielsa’s methods and philosophy are legendary across Europe and now he does it for Leeds.
The one vs one battles he creates all over the pitch rely on intense discipline from each player and unbelievable fitness levels, something he drills into every player. He improves individuals on a regular basis and entertains, but really should’ve won more in his career considering the reputation he has.
7. Rafa Benitez – Everton
A Champions League winner, a La Liga winner, an FA Cup winner, Rafa Benitez is one of the best coaches of his generation.
The issue for him unfortunately, is that generation was about 15 years ago. Rafa was at his best in the mid 2000’s to mid 2010’s during his time with Valencia and Liverpool but since then his football has become very rigid and uninspiring. He can still get results, but I don’t expect him to pull up any trees between now and the end of his career.
6.David Moyes – West Ham
Moyes’ career seemed dead and buried after his Man United spell almost a decade ago, but the way he has built his reputation back up has been nothing short of excellent.
He’s build a West Ham side that now competes with the best teams in the country when they face off against each other and is one of the toughest to beat, while also scoring plenty of goals going forward. The only thing he’s missing now is a trophy or two.
5.Brendan Rodgers – Leicester City
Rodgers showed what a great coach he was during his time with Watford and Swansea, then the Liverpool job when he made them genuine title contenders with brilliant, attacking football.
That job came a little early for him in the end, but he went to Celtic and was dominant and has made Leicester a truly competitive side. He even added the FA Cup to his trophy cabinet, so he is comfortably the best of the rest for me.
4.Antonio Conte – Tottenham
The new Tottenham manager has a proven CV in the managerial world and is without a doubt one of the best in the world.
His 3-4-3 formation has seen him win Serie A titles, a Premier League title and an FA Cup and his management style makes all his sides incredibly difficult to beat. Sometimes though, that pragmatism takes over and not losing gets prioritised over winning, so he just misses out on the top three.
3. Thomas Tuchel – Chelsea
A brilliant thinker with positive attacking football his forté, Tuchel has come to Chelsea and flipped a switch to become a brilliant defensive coach now.
Chelsea barely ever concede goals and yet they still find a way to score goals and win trophies. He’s shown he can do all sides of the game to a high level and has the trophies to boot with a Champions League winners medal so he goes in at third.
2.Pep Guardiola – Manchester City
When it’s all said and done and Guardiola hangs up his coaching hat, he could go down as one of the absolute best ever.
He’s won everything there is to win twice over, playing brilliant attacking football and revolutionising the way teams all over the world approach the game. He improves players individually, improves teams endlessly and wins games with style. The only flaw for me is he’s always had to spend a lot of money to do it, but that’s why teams bring him in and he always delivers.
1. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool
For me, the best coach in world football not just the Premier League.
Klopp came into a Liverpool side and implemented a brand new style immediately, and slowly but surely built his squad to become one of the best sides in modern history that won it all. They play fast-paced football with the first though always to score goals, have pace and are brave in their positions.
If I was starting a football club and could make anyone the manager, I’d pick Klopp.
One criticism that I, and many other fans, have of football clubs is when they try to shop out of their price range.
In the past we’ve seen Arsenal linked with players that seemed way out of their budget or capabilities based on the status of the current squad and their performance over the last few years.
We often say that there is a market for a club in transition such as Arsenal, and it’s to take a gamble on players a step earlier than they would have previously in order to build a top squad for the future before the big boys start circling around them.
When Leicester do their business and sign the likes of Wesley Fofana, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans it’s because they’re willing to take the plunge earlier than the top teams.
Tielamans and Fofana weren’t cheap either, costing a combined £70m for a club who have only ever finished in the top four once in Premier League history. But the way they have turned out and become top players, they could now probably command that combined fee for each player individually.
Alternatively, they could build a side full of top talents who can now help them to challenge the bigger more equipped sides in the country. Sadly for Arsenal fans, as much as it may hurt, that is the bubble they’re in now.
Signing the likes of Thomas Partey is huge and something that the history of the club can afford them to do. They’re still a giant club globally and do have some name value when it comes to attracting stars.
But something that Mikel Arteta is doing this summer seems to be targeting is that young talent that can help them to bridge the gap. The exit of David Luiz this summer means that they need a centre back and for whatever reason, he doesn’t rate William Saliba whatsoever.
So the best way to replace him is to bring in a young, talented defender that he can develop into a top level player for the club in the long-term. That man is seemingly Brighton’s Ben White.
He shone for Leeds United in the Championship two seasons ago and then last year was great for the Seagulls, showing that he can cope in the Premier League. He then stepped into the England squad for Gareth Southgate at the last minute for Euro 2020, replacing the injured Trent Alexander-Arnold.
Arteta would have seen him play centre-back in a four or three, wing-back, right-back or even defensive midfield. That helps him to solve several problems within his squad with just one signing.
He’s clearly a very talented young player with plenty of room to improve and a big fee is only ever remembered when the player doesn’t do well. Nobody talks about the £75m Virgil Van Dijk cost Liverpool, or the £50m Manchester City spent on Kyle Walker and Raheem Sterling.
If White becomes a successful purchase as Arsenal clearly anticipate he will, then the fee becomes irrelevant.
Getting in a young, super talented player is a good thing for Arsenal and while the fee represents a huge outlay on a gamble, it’s one that they’re best placed to make.
They’re finally shopping in the right markets and they’re one of the biggest sharks in that pool, it’s time to make a splash.
In a Premier League season that seemed like everything was sewn up nice and early, the football Gods made sure there was still some kind of action to pay attention to on the final day.
Manchester City are champions, Manchester United are runners-up and Fulham, West Brom and Sheffield United are going down to the Championship. Everything else however, including the final two top four places, Europa League places and Europa Conference League places are still up for grabs.
With the middle of the table so tight and congested, lets simplify all the possibilities of the final day of the season for you.
Champions League places
Aston Villa vs Chelsea Leicester vs Tottenham Liverpool vs Crystal Palace
Three teams will battle it out for the final two spots to compete in Europe’s elite competition next season, with Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool all still in the race.
As it stands, if all three teams were to win their games then Chelsea would finish in third place while Liverpool would pip the Foxes on goal difference, unless Leicester won by five goals more than what Jurgen Klopp’s Reds could muster up.
With the points difference so tight, if any of the teams were to slip up on the day and the other two were to win, then the team that messed up would miss out on Champions League football.
There is of course a wildcard option, that if Chelsea were to finish fifth in the league but then win the Champions League final against Manchester City on May 29th, they would then qualify for the competition as holders and England would have five representatives in next year’s tournament.
EUROPA LEAGUE & EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE PLACES
West Ham vs Southampton Leicester vs Tottenham Manchester City vs Everton Arsenal vs Brighton
This is where it gets a bit complicated, so bear with us.
That means one of West Ham, Everton or Tottenham will join one of Chelsea, Liverpool or Leicester in UEFA’s secondary competition. David Moyes’ Hammers are the favourites to finish in sixth place, with a three point head-start over their rivals before the games kick off. They’ve also got the most favourable fixture, with a home tie in front of their fans against a Southampton side with nothing to play for.
Should they fall to a defeat though, Everton and Spurs can match their points tally with a win. That means it would come down to goal difference, which would earn the north London side the position in the table. However if Spurs were unable to beat Leicester and Everton could get a win over the champions Man City, they would take the spot.
There is also a new competition for UEFA though, the Europa Conference League which the team who finishes in seventh place will qualify for. That allows Arsenal to sneak into the conversation for a European place on the final day with a win over Brighton at The Emirates Stadium.
Should the Gunners win and both Spurs and Everton fail to, Mikel Arteta’s side would leapfrog both teams in the table and claim European football for next year – extending their run to 26 consecutive years in UEFA competition.
It’s sure to be an exciting final day of the season after originally looking like it would be a bit of a dead rubber weekend in England. But now it matches up with the rest of Europe with plenty of happenings on to settle at the top end of the division.
Arsenal have put the wheels in motion on a rebuild ahead of next season, with David Luiz and Willian both set to leave the club this summer.
The Gunners have had their worst season in recent memory, finishing outside of the European football places for the first time in 25 years while also failing to win any trophies under Mikel Arteta.
Despite that, the manager is somehow set to retain his job and be allowed to oversee a squad overhaul starting with the departure of two big-name Brazilians.
It was reported by The Athletic last week that after talks between both parties that both Luiz and Arsenal agreed that he should leave the club at the end of his contract this summer. The club were not planning on offering him a new deal and even if they did, he had no intentions of accepting and he will now leave the club.
Willian on the other hand was signed last summer by Arteta on a three-year deal when he didn’t extend his contract with Chelsea. He wasn’t wanted by fans at the time and his performances have shown why, with the winger only scoring his first goal for the club in the recent win over already-relegated West Bromwich Albion and registering just five assists in the Premier League – with three of those coming on the opening day.
In midfield Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Matteo Guendouzi, Lucas Torreira and Dani Ceballos will all likely leave the club with all failing to impress during their time at the Emirates Stadium, although Arteta’s budget to replace them is currently unknown.
Aubameyang has found himself displaced from the starting lineup by French teammate Alexandre Lacazette, who has scored 17 goals in all competitions this season. Lacazette has attracted interest himself but his style of play seems to suit Arteta a bit more, with his ability to play with his back to goal necessary for what the young coach is trying to implement.
Add to that the fact he is a couple of years younger, he’d likely be the preferred option to stay although that Gabon forwards contract could mean he is forced to stay and Arsenal cash in on Lacazette instead.
William Saliba is likely to return to the club following his loan spell away, with the suggestion that there will be a “clean slate” between himself and Arteta for him to try and break into the first-team again, while Rob Holding, Calum Chambers and Kieran Tierney will all be deemed as starters going forward.
The future of loanee Martin Odegaard is also in question, with the club keen to make his loan permanent but his interest in that not clear.
The Norwegian playmaker joined on loan from Real Madrid in January and has impressed, but with Madrid likely to want to refresh their ageing squad in the summer he will have a big chance of breaking into the team more regularly.
That would mean Arsenal stand next to no chance of keeping him, although it’s not a position they need to prioritise in reality.
It looks set to be an incredibly busy summer for Arsenal and with Arteta likely to stay in charge, there will be no excuses next year. It will be his squad, his second full season in charge and be decisions made by him. It’s quite literally now or never for Arsenal under Arteta.
Arsenal were dumped out of the Europa League at the semi-final stage by former manager Unai Emery’s Villarreal side to set up a final in Gdansk against Manchester United.
The Gunners came into the game knowing they had to win after losing the first leg 2-1 and Mikel Arteta set the team up with a five-at-the-back formation that was troubled before the game even started, with Granit Xhaka getting injured in the warm up.
Kieran Tierney came in but Arsenal struggled throughout, having just two shots on target in the 90 minutes as they were held to a 0-0 draw and dumped out of the tournament.
Villarreal remain unbeaten throughout the tournament so far and Emery has now made it to a record five Europa League finals, after winning three-in-a-row with Sevilla before losing in the final to Chelsea as Arsenal manager in 2019.
They will now face Manchester United in the final who’s first leg 6-2 win was enough to see them through as they lost 3-2 on the night in Rome and saw off a little scare.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to get to his first final as manager of the club and he named a strong team on the night despite the club being set to play four games in seven days prior to kick off. Edinson Cavani gave the Reds the lead to settle any nerves, but Roma scored two goals in very quick succession to give themselves hope.
Cavani scored once again to wrap up progression, although Roma scored once more to earn themselves a win when youngster Nicola Zalewski’s strike came off Alex Telles and went through David De Gea’s legs.
Despite that, United showed they were the better team throughout the two legs and can finally put the ridiculous semi-final curse under Solskjaer behind them.
Arsenal must now really consider their future, as they face having no European football whatsoever next season for the first time in 25 years. The club are currently sat in ninth place and unless they can make up a five point swing over Liverpool, who have played a game less, in four games then they will be without.
Arteta was a gamble at the time of his appointment and it is one that has failed. Despite winning the FA Cup in his first season, he has accumulated just 49 points in 34 games and this season has failed to make it to a final of any cup competition.
Manchester United on the other hand will be favourites going into the final in Poland, with the better players and team than Villarreal but Emery’s experience in winning this competition will prove vital without a doubt.
United do have weaknesses in the way they play and Emery will undoubtedly look to expose those issues to help the Spanish side win the first European trophy in their history.
In a fun coincidence the final will be played on May 26th, the same date that Solskjaer famously scored the winning goal in the UEFA Champions League final back in 1999 as the Red Devils won the treble.
Less than 12 months after making the decision on their number one goalkeeper, Arsenal look set to be without both of them by the time the next season begins.
At the end of the 2019/20 season, Emiliano Martinez finally got a chance in the number one role after Bernd Leno picked up a knee injury. He impressed so much as the club went on to win the FA Cup that many called for him to take the number one shirt on a permanent basis.
He agreed claiming that if he wasn’t going to be number one that he wanted to leave and when Mikel Arteta chose the German, Aston Villa came in and snapped him up for £20million.
Now however, it seems as though Leno will leave the Emirates this summer after reports suggest that he has told the club he wants to leave as he wants to play at the top level on a more regular basis.
Should Arsenal not be able to overturn their Europa League semi-final first leg defeat to Villarreal and they fail to win the tournament, they will be without European football for the first time in 25 years.
It’s a more than fair enough reason for Leno to look to leave the north London club, with his national team career likely to go up a notch after Euro 2020 with Manuel Neuer getting older and older. Leno will be competing with Barcelona stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen for the Germany number one jersey, but he has no chance of winning that battle if he’s marauding at a mid table club with no continental football.
The decision to pick Leno over Martinez was an unpopular one amongst the fan base at the time, with many believing the Argentine was a better option. He was younger, hungrier, had been at the club for a decade and was impressive every time he played. There was no need for a change, even though it was the start of a new season.
Martinez has since gone across to Villa Park and shone keeping 14 clean sheets this season, more than anyone except for Ederson and Edouard Mendy of Manchester City and Chelsea respectively. Leno has kept only nine as Arsenal labour in ninth place in the league with 13 league defeats this season, just one points and place ahead of Villa who have played a game less.
The way the entire situation was handled was weird, with Martinez starting the Community Shield win over Liverpool just two weeks before he left the club.
When the decision needed to be made, I agreed with Arteta’s original choice. I thought Leno had the experience factor and had a slight edge as the better goalkeeper and felt that the club should put their faith in him.
While Martinez has arguably proven myself and Arteta wrong now and shown that he is the better keeper, the decision wouldn’t look so bad if the season had gone better and Leno wasn’t now adamant in leaving.
The club have gone from having two number one goalkeepers at the club at the same time to potentially having none and needing to sign one desperately ahead of the new season to help themselves get back into contention for European football.
Martinez is now laughing in the Midlands with a first-choice position nailed down at a Premier League club, while Arsenal are scrambling to convince Leno to stay or looking at which keeper to sign to take over the role. What a shambles.
The Europa League is down to its final four teams and there are some very intriguing ties to be played out to decipher who will lift the trophy come the end of the season.
Premier League side Manchester United will take on Serie A side AS Roma as the two remaining strongest teams in the competition, with Arsenal going head-to-head against their former manager when they take on Villarreal.
We’ll preview both knockout ties once again and give our predictions as we have done for every English club tie in the competition so far, starting with Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side taking on former boss Unai Emery’s new team with his Europa League prowess in full flow again.
The La Liga side went through the group stages of the tournament unbeaten, winning five of the six games and conceding just five goals. They were able to finish above Maccabi Tel-Aviv, Sivasspor and Qarabag before being drawn against RB Salzburg in the last 32 of the competition.
They dispatched of the Austrian side winning both home and away, before also beating Dynamo Kyiv 2-0 both home and away to set up a quarter-final tie against Dinamo Zagreb. Emery’s side then won both legs of that tie against the Croatian side, to maintain an unbeaten record throughout the tournament so far this season.
Unai Emery has won the tournament three times before, winning a hat-trick with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016. He also reached the final as manager of the Gunners back in 2019, but they were thumped 4-1 by Chelsea in the final.
He was sacked the following season, allowing for Arteta to take over the reigns where he has struggled to find any sort of consistent form since.
This season he was able to navigate the group stages with relative ease, coming through a group containing Dundalk, Molde and Rapid Wien with six wins from six games. They then took on Benfica in the round of 32 and managed to progress thanks to a late winner from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in the second leg, before a last 16 tie against Olympiacos saw them win the home leg 3-1 meaning the 1-0 home defeat still saw them progress.
They then faced off with Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals, where they drew 1-1 at the Emirates Stadium before a thumping 4-0 win in Prague got them to this stage.
Domestically, both sides have had differing seasons too. Villarreal currently sit in seventh place with 49 points from 33 games having lost three of their last four games, while Arsenal sit in tenth in the Premier League with 46 points from 33 games. For both teams this is their final chance at claiming a Champions League place for next season, while for Arsenal it could be their only hope at European football at all.
Arsenal have the better players individually, but Arteta has really struggled to get them playing to their capabilities. Emery has mastered this competition and Villarreal’s undefeated run to this point certainly makes them favourites in my books.
Gerard Moreno is a goalscoring machine this season with 20 in all competitions and with Dani Parejo, Samuel Chukwueze and Paco Alcacer all among the supporting cast they have enough quality to punish Arsenal.
The first game being in Spain is a big advantage to Arsenal since they’ll be at home for the second leg and know what needs to be done to secure qualification, but even still I expect Emery to be able to find the weaknesses in the Gunners side and expose them enough to secure yet another Europa League final.
Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal Arsenal 1-1 Villarreal (Villarreal to progress 3-2 on aggregate)