Villarreal made history at the expense of Arsenal as they booked the Europa League final spot for the first time in the club’s history. Moreover, it was also redemption for Unai Emery who was sacked by the very club he defeated. Although the match ended in a goalless draw, the first leg lead was enough to guide them to victory.
This was a straightforward match. Villarreal had taken the lead in the first leg and they knew that they had to go all out and defend. On the other hand, Arsenal, who had grabbed a crucial away goal, knew that they could proceed to the final by scoring only 1 goal as the away goal rule would favour them.
The Premier League side’s manager, Mikel Arteta made as many as 7 changes to the side that beat Newcastle United last time out. Bernard Leno, Holding, Mari Villar, Thomas Partey, Smith Rowe, Saka, and Pepe started ahead of Mathew Ryan, David Luiz, Gabriel, Elneny, Ceballos, Willian, and Martinelli. Ceballos was unavailable because of suspension whereas Luiz was out injured.
Unai Emery also made adequate changes as 6 different players featured in the squad from the one that defeated Getafe. Rulli, Albiol, Pedraza, Coquelin, Trigueros and Moreno came in place of Asenjo, Mori, Estupinan, Capoue, Raba and Gomez. Capoue was unavailable as he had picked up a red card in the first leg fixture.
It was a very rapid start as with just 2 minutes into the game, Arsenal had won a corner. Soon enough the visiting side made the attack and forced Leno to make a fine save. Chukweze struck a fine left-footed shot from the edge of the box. If it wasn’t for Leno’s finger-tipped save, Arsenal would have been in huge trouble 4 minutes into the game.
From that point onwards it was a closely watchable match. Arsenal were very sloppy and were giving away possession multiple times. They were not showing the zeal to win the match. Villareal on the other hand were the ones who were knocking on the doors despite making a defensive approach.
Parejo came close to scoring the opener but his efforts flew just across the bar. However, it was Aubameyang who missed a great chance. 26 minutes into the game, a failed clearance from the Yellow Submarine’s defence saw the striker take outside of the foot shot that deflected off the post.
Villarreal were then defensively solid and leaving Arsenal frustrated. However, Arsenal had another golden chance snatched away. With 5 minutes remaining for half-time, Arsenal made their best effort so far, when Smith Rowe gave a long ball to Aubameyang, who with a twist and turn fired a curling shot. Rulli made a save but lost control of the ball. It passed through his legs and just before it rolled over the line, he collected it.
The second half was also started brightly by Arsenal. Pepe struck a volley that was just wide from the post. The Gunners then kept on trying and got another chance soon enough. They kept on pushing and went on creating great chances, but were not able to get anything out of it. The visitors then started getting confident and enjoyed a lot of possession.
Arsenal were losing focus as their eagerness to grab that 1 goal was making them commit errors. Villareal took advantage of one such chance but Leno made another brilliant save. Arsenal had registered almost double of what Villarreal attempted. However, all their shots were going either over the top or wide off the post.
Opportunities kept on coming for Arsenal as in the 74th minute, Holding produced a brilliant header, but yet again, it went wide. The last chance was heartbreak for them as it was the third time they came so close. Arsenal produced a quick counter. Aubameyang headed the ball from Bellerin’s cross, but it hit the inside of the post and returned back into play which was cleared by Albiol to safety.
After 10 more minutes of dedicated defending, Villarreal were relieved when the referee blew the final whistle. It was an emotional one for the La Liga outfit. Having exited from this stage a record 4 times, they have finally reached a European final. Unai Emery, who has a brilliant Europa League history, will be equally happy as he was able to get his revenge. Villareal will be now facing Manchester United who progressed to the finals winning 8-5 on aggregate despite losing 3-2 in the second leg to AS Roma.
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