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Arsenal 0 Villarreal 0 (agg 1-2): Emery returns to haunt ex-club with Gunners’ best shot at European football KO’d

SPOTIFY, play Road To Nowhere - because that’s exactly where Arsenal are heading as they face up to the end of 26 consecutive years of European football.

And even the possibility of a takeover by Daniel Ek will not lift the mounting pressure on boss Mikel Arteta.

The founder of the global streaming service is ready to table a £2billion bid for Stan Kroenke’s controlling share of English football’s fallen giants.

But Arsenal’s valuation will have plummeted now they know that they will almost certainly be spending next season at home.

And to make matters worse was the knowledge that they had been booted out by the man they sacked to make way for Arteta.

Unai Emery has plenty of form for beating his former team in the semi-finals of the Europa League.

He did it against both Valencia and Sevilla, but neither of those victories will have given him half as much satisfaction as he took last night.

Mocked on Twitter by Mesut Ozil ahead of this match, Emery showed that maybe he is not such a laughing stock after all as he prepares to face Manchester United in this month’s final.

Arteta’s prospects are not so bright as he faces up to the consequences of Arsenal’s worst season this century.

He regularly says that he cannot wait for the fans to be allowed back into the Emirates.

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But he really should be careful what he wishes for because the supporters are revolting and they’re not prepared to put up with much more of this mediocrity.

He has already had longer than Emery was allowed to fire the Arsenal revival.

But his team are still stuck on the launchpad and showing little sign of sparking into life any time soon.

There is still an outside chance of sneaking into seventh place in the Premier League to snatch a place in the new Uefa Conference League, a third-rate competition for third-rate teams.

But that is not going to placate a fanbase which has witnessed the steady decline of this once-great club.

Arteta made eight changes to the team which beat Newcastle at the weekend and four to the one beaten in last week’s first leg in Spain.

But at least he abandoned the ‘false nine’ experiment which had backfired so disastrously in Villarreal last week.

Instead he opted for a bold 4-1-4-1 formation with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang leading the line and Thomas Partey shielding the defence.

Villarreal, though, arrived with plenty of their own attacking intent and clearly weren’t going to just sit back and try to protect their slender first-leg lead.

They almost got the early goal they were looking for when the dangerous Samu Chukwueze cut inside for a powerful shot which required a diving save from Bernd Leno.

And the Arsenal keeper was forced into drastic action by Partey’s ridiculous back pass which was sailing towards his own goal until Leno leapt to head clear.

Daniel Parejo fired a 23rd-minute free-kick inches over after he had been tripped on the edge of the area by Partey as the visitors continued to threaten.

Arsenal were struggling to get out of their own half yet very nearly took the lead with their first meaningful attack of the evening.

Martin Odegaard’s 26th-minute cross was only half cleared to Aubameyang, whose first-time volley flew through a crowd of defenders and clipped the base of the far post.

The Arsenal skipper had spoken ahead of this game of his desire to make amends for his disappointing season so far.

And he almost delivered on that promise with a 38th-minute shot which squirmed through the legs of Villarreal keeper Geronimo Rulli before being snatched at the second attempt.

Yet Arsenal were still struggling to make much headway against their well-organised opponents.

Pablo Mari almost turned Gerard Moreno’s through ball into his own goal and Raul Albiol’s volley from the resulting corner was blocked by the knee of Nicolas Pepe.

And as he headed down the tunnel at half-time with the game still goalless Emery would have seen little to cause him concern for the remaining 45 minutes.

And that hunch proved to be correct as Pepe and Emile Smith Rowe both squandered opportunities to force the breakthrough Arteta was crying out for before Aubameyang’s late header came back off a post.

Yet considering that they were playing for their European survival, there was a worrying lack of intensity from Arsenal’s players.

It would be wrong to say that they have stopped playing for the manager in the same way they chucked the towel in on the previous guy.

But too many of them appear to be going through the motions and Arteta needs to make some very big decisions in the coming months.

Read our Football live blog for the very latest news from around the grounds

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