Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown has accused Mikel Arteta of copying Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola with his tactical approach to Thursday’s crucial Europa League match against Villarreal at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were dumped out of the competition at the semi-final stage after failing to find an elusive winning goal, with the La Liga side maintaining their 2-1 first-leg advantage to earn their shot at European glory later this month.
Manchester United will be their opponents for the final in Gdansk, with Unai Emery looking to seal his fourth Europa League triumph with victory over the Red Devils.
Arsenal struggled to get going from the first whistle, with Arteta’s side looking lethargic in comparison to their opponents.
The Spanish boss opted to deploy a midfield trio consisting of Thomas Partey, Emile Smith Rowe and Martin Odegaard, but the Gunners system did not manage to work together effectively for the majority of the match.
The north London club went into Thursday’s match in desperate need of a goal in order to keep their European dreams alive.
However, their performance during the opening 45 minutes showed a distinct lack of urgency and desire to make things happen at the top end of the pitch.
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Arteta’s tactics failed to impress Keown, who suggested that the Arsenal boss was making a misguided attempt to emulate Guardiola’s midfield system with Rodri as the defensive lynchpin.
“[There are] huge problems in that midfield,” Keown told BT Sport at half-time.
“It’s as if Arsenal have stolen another idea from Guardiola, the way Rodri sits in midfield and [Ilkay] Gundogan [and Bernardo] Silva [push forward].
“Arsenal are playing Odegaard and Smith Rowe either side of Partey. Partey’s in that midfield on his own far too often.
“When he gets the ball, he hasn’t got an option. So they need to drop a little bit deeper.
“It’s been sloppy from Arsenal. No real fluency, they look frightened. They haven’t even come out to play and it’s nervy, and mistakes are being made and they haven’t taken the initiative.
“Again, look at Smith Rowe, takes a touch there and they’re onto him, these Villarreal players, sniffing around for opportunities.
“It just seems like there’s hesitancy. They [Arsenal] gave away a free-kick on the edge of the box that Villarreal nearly scored from.
“You just can’t afford to do that. Arsenal have not got out of first gear yet, it’s just too sloppy at the moment.”
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang went closest for the Gunners in the opening 45 minutes, striking the post with a dangerous effort that had Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli well-beaten between the sticks.
The Gabon international hit the woodwork once again during the closing stages of the match as Arsenal huffed and puffed, but their attempts to claw themselves back into the tie were ultimately in vain.
The result means that Arteta’s side will likely be forced to endure their first campaign without Champions League or Europa League football since 1996 next season.