May 6th – Arsenal 0 Villarreal 0

Gdansk is gone. Until the 75th minute I had thought we’d sneak a goal. But then I realized the gods and ourselves were against us. Who would have guessed we would keep a clean sheet. Or that we would not have scored. We had some chances and on another day – or in a few years – ESR will show more composure in front of goal.

As frustrating as it is it’s not clear that we would have benefits from going to Gdansk to lose in the final again. And we’re certainly not a Champions League team. Maybe, as painful as it is to accept, we might benefit by being out of Europe for one year. It will be the ultimate test for Arteta. There won’t be any hiding of acceptance of us being unable to win something or finish in the top 6. Anything else next year and he’ll be gone. Not that I agree. One benefit of tone deaf owners is that they won’t change the manager this summer. There will be pleas to bring in someone else. That would be a disaster. Though it’s not clear what manager would now want to come to a team that is not in Europe next year. Maybe that’s another blessing for Arteta. He needs a couple of windows to re-fit this team. Let’s not forget he did win a cup last year. And this year has been crazy.

Back to todays game. They swamped our creativity and we did take advantage of the few chances we had. We looked tired and limited.

Too many players did not step up. Saka was muted as was ESR. Odergaard was none existent. Bellerin rather than Chambers was our threat on the right. Hence most of our creativity play came from the left. Tierney was restrained and played within himself – there was no way he was fully fit. Aubameyang was clearly not there either. Put it all together – one long excuse I know – No Xhaka, Aubeyang and Odergaard and Tierney not quite fit. Saka drained after a long season. And Pepe being Pepe. We did not have enough force or stamina or luck to get that goal

Maybe we saved ourselves that trip to Gdanks to only have to loose to Man U. I feel like this team is strung out and needs a rest. Well, boy, will we get one next year. No Europe for us. Arsenal truly bought into the idea of Brex-it. Or in this case Arse-it

Loosing Xhaka clearly changed the balance of the team. Having a single holding midfielder – Partey – was limiting. Neither ESR or Odergaard could penetrate their packed midfield. We barely tested their goalkeeper. We are a feast or famine team. And today, in the most important game, we were famine. There were a few periods where we generated momentum – mainly in the second half – and each time Villarreal shut us down. Slowing the game days, faking injuries and basically showing how to manage a game out.

If you had a choice of Coquelin or Partey for your defensive midfield player who would you pick? Based on todays evidence it’s not obvious. Party was piss poor today. Too often caught on the ball. Too often slowing the game down. He rarely made a forward pass (aside from a few long balls). He seemed like a liability. He was one of our biggest disappointments today. After his contributions early in the season I think he’s lost his way with this team. And maybe that’s happened since he lost Xhaka alongside him. But today was one of his more careless and error prone performances. Not what you’d expect in such a big game.

Another questions is, based on these two games (and the balance of the season) would we have done better if Emery was our manager. No fucking way. Shoot me now. I’d be dead from boredom. Never would I want him back. Yet he’s been more successful at Villarreal in a shorter period of time than Arteta has had at Arsenal. Yet most people would argue that player for players Arsenal are superior to Villarreal. So how to make sense of this. I can’t.

I should be more upset – writing this a few hours after the game helps – but this was always going to be a long project. The last thing we can afford now is to change managers yet again. We have to stick with Arteta for at least another year. Let’s see what changes happen in the summer. It’s time for an improved midfield. Someone to compete with Partey. Someone to displace Xhaka. And someone to replace Ceballos.

But before we dissect the entire season – there will be plenty of time for that – we need to understand how we could be so tepid for such long periods of the game today. No-one seemed to want take on responsibility for trying to create. Again, I’m convinced Odergaard has not fully recovered from his injury and ESR was marginalized. And Saka looks down and out after a long season. Take those 3 out and add in a Tierney who could barely get up and down the touchline and we would have problems. And did I mention that Aubameyang and Cigarette are not fit either. Yes, more excuses.

Most fans though will go after Arteta. He’ll handle that. And so will Kroneke. My hope is the mistakes he’s made – the false 9 in the first leg – will be experiences he can learn from. Because once the fans return the pressure will mount on him. Maybe I’m being too loyal to him. Maybe he is not the right manager. But, we need more time to make that judgment. We can’t afford the revolving door that was ManU or that lot down the road. We have to stick by him and be patient. We have no other choice. Sorry.

So herein endeth our season. What a meek way to go out. No crashing everything into their goal. No breakneck finish. No do or die. Just die. Maybe that’s where we missed the fans. But finishing with Willian and Eddie on the pitch is not exactly what you’d need to snatch a goal. Such a shame. I really thought we’d get through this tie. It really is a little embarrassing for the club. Not missing out on a final but more how quietly we went out. Where were our on field leaders today? None that I could see. Maybe we should have had Martinelli on earlier. And it’s preferable for him to operate on the left. See him collide with Cigarette in their penalty area just smacked of panic. They were both player the same position at that point. And yet we’d lost Ska to left back. That’s on Arteta. Let’s hope he learns.

I need to take a break. I’m getting more negative the more I think about this. Just as I’d started to recover and convince myself we could use this experience to focus next year on building our league position. It brings us back to Arteta. So let’s leave that for another day.


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