Arsenal spared by cautious Unai Emery as ill-discipline continues to plague Mikel Arteta’s side

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Simon Collings
·3-min read
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<p>Dani Ceballos was sent off for Arsenal against Villarreal</p> (REUTERS)

Dani Ceballos was sent off for Arsenal against Villarreal

(REUTERS)

Not for the first time this season, Arsenal looked on the brink of going out of the Europa League during this match with Villarreal.

With an hour of the semi-final first leg gone, they were two goals down and playing with 10 men after Dani Ceballos had been sent off for a second yellow card.

In truth it was no more than they deserved after an abysmal first half, which saw Villarreal cruise into an early lead thanks to goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.

Those both came inside the opening 30 minutes, and you thought they’d get more, but in the end it was Arsenal who struck next thanks to Nicolas Pepe’s penalty.

That came with just 17 minutes to go and it means, somehow, Arsenal are still in this tie as the two teams prepare to meet again in London next week.

The Gunners, however, could so easily have been staring down the barrel had Villarreal taken the chance to kill the tie. Mikel Arteta has moaned about his side not being ruthless this season, but Unai Emery was toothless here.

He hauled off his striker Paco Alcacer at half-time for Francis Coquelin, deciding the 2-0 lead he had was enough.

With the benefit of hindsight, it feels like a mistake as Arsenal were there for the taking. Samuel Chukwueze had Granit Xhaka, who struggled filling in at left-back, on the ropes and helped set up Trigueros for the hosts’ first goal.

The second was as easy as you like, with the unmarked Gerard Moreno flicking the ball on from a corner for Albiol to head home, again unmarked.

When Ceballos was sent off before the hour mark for a second yellow card, just 10 minutes after he’d been lucky to escape being dismissed already, you feared the wheels would come off.

Somehow, Arsenal dug in as, not for the first time, Bukayo Saka came to the rescue. He won a penalty and Pepe did the honours to spare Arteta’s blushes.

False nine experiment fails

Getty Images
Getty Images

With no Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang only on the bench after recovering from malaria, Arteta had to find a solution up front.

Eddie Nketiah was chosen to lead the line against Everton but, after he failed that audition, you thought Gabriel Martinelli may get the nod here.

In the end, Arteta opted to deploy Emile Smith Rowe as a false nine as he got creative in trying to find a solution.

The experiment, however, failed to get off the ground and that could well be the last time we see it.

Arsenal’s build-up was nice and patient, but they lacked a focal point to their attack. It gave the Villarreal centre-backs an easy night and Arteta must be hoping one of Aubameyang or Lacazette is fit to start the second leg.

Ceballos sending off sees red-card count rise

Getty Images
Getty Images

After Ceballos was given his marching orders tonight, Arteta has now had 10 players sent off since he was appointed by Arsenal in December 2019.

That has come in 80 games, meaning, on average, the Gunners are having a man sent off every eight matches.

It is a startling stat and one that raises concerns about the discipline within this Arsenal squad.

Some of those red cards, namely David Luiz’s at Wolves, can be protested against, however either way the sheer number of them is too high.

Ahead of a huge second leg next week, Arsenal need to tighten up.

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