Arsenal approached what is our biggest game of the season like a joke tonight. Villarreal hammered us in the first half and Mikel Arteta’s men went in at the break two goals down.
A Nicolas Pepe penalty in the second half after Dani Ceballos was sent off saved some face for Arteta. The Gunners come away with an away goal in what was truly an awful display in a game that means so much to everyone associated with the club.
Here is a look at five things we learned from the fixture…
We had Unai Emery at the Emirates for about 16 months and the one thing the Spaniard instilled into our side was playing out from the back. That forced teams to press and commit players in our final third, which then opened up space in midfield for us to exploit.
Villarreal did the exact same for the first goal and Arsenal fell into Emery’s trap in the most clueless fashion.
Arteta should’ve instructed his forwards to not over-commit. Nobody knows if this was discussed before the game, but the players did what their former boss wanted them to do, and we were punished.
Arteta and his substitutions
If there’s one criticism every Arsenal fan has of Arteta, it’s his unwillingness to be proactive with his substitutions.
Dani Ceballos should’ve been off at half-time – mostly because we needed a natural centre-forward, but also as he picked up a yellow card in the first-half. Arteta sent him on and the Real Madrid man got himself a second booking.
This simply cannot continue going forward. We know Arteta is still learning the job while being right in the middle of it, but he has to change the way he uses his substitutes as soon as possible.
Shooting ourselves in the foot
The most annoying thing about the result is that we could’ve avoided both of their goals. The first one was a trap almost every player in the squad knew about, while the second one is another trick Emery employed at Arsenal when he was here.
After going two goals down, Arteta had to change something, but he refused to. Ceballos came out for the second half and was extremely lucky not to get his marching orders straight away. The referee was lenient then, but he wasn’t later.
It was really silly from the Spaniard and it won’t be a surprise if Arteta chooses to keep him away from his starting lineup in the coming weeks.
Bernd Leno redeems himself
After his howler against Everton last week, a lot of eyes were on how Leno would fare today. It’s fair to say, our season would’ve been over tonight if it wasn’t for the German in goal.
He had no chance with the first two goals and was extremely unlucky to have conceded them. However, he kept his head up and kept us in the tie with two incredibly important saves.
Emery being Emery
The former Arsenal boss deserves credit for setting those traps in the first half. However, what he did at the break was exactly what he used to do at the Emirates that resulted in him losing his job.
Arsenal were really there for the taking tonight. If Emery had asked his players to go for the kill after the break, we would’ve crumbled. However, he took his striker off for a defensive midfielder, and that saved us.
Emery’s laughable tactics at half-time is still keeping us in the tie. The away goal really is massive, and if the former Arsenal boss comes to the Emirates next week with the mindset of protecting his lead, we can batter them.