Arsenal’s troubled season continues with nary a moment to draw breath. The Gunners are in a disappointing 10th place in the Premier League – with the lack of a top four finish destroying the fans’ dreams of automatic Champions League participation next season – and were beaten 1-0 by Everton last week after poor defending by Granit Xhaka followed by a fumble from goalie Bernd Leno. And the furore over American owner Stan Krownke’s recently aborted plan to join the European Super League continues, with around 1,000 fans protesting outside the Emirates Stadium prior to Friday’s match.
The Europa League is the one beacon of hope that remains to salvage the season with Arsenal poised to play the first leg in their semi-final against Villareal on Thursday night. Manager Mikel Arteta will be mindful that Spanish side Villareal present a formidable challenge, having won every match so far to reach the semi.
Villareal’s manager, Unai Emery, has had fantastic Europa League success in the past. When he was manager of Seville, he led the team to three consecutive wins in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Emery is familiar to English football fans and, in particular to Arsenal fans, as he succeeded Arsene Wegner in 2018 before being sacked after a series of bad results. During his brief tenure at Arsenal, however, he led the team to the Europa League Final where they lost 4-1 to Chelsea.
Emery’s knowledge of the north London club, combined with his experience of the Europa League, could present Arteta and his team with a few headaches on Thursday and the La Liga side will start the match as favourites, with odds of 20/13 from bookmaker SBK. But there is not much in it, really, as the best odds for an Arsenal win are 2/1, also from SBK.
If Arsenal does defeat Villareal across the two legs to be played this Thursday and the following, they will play the winner of the Manchester United v Roma semi-final. The Reds are firm favourites to reach the final, with odds of 31/50 from Novibet, and are hotly tipped to lift the trophy too, with odds of 13/11 from SBK, as opposed to odds of 3/1 for an Arsenal win, this time from Betfred.
Manchester United won the Europa League in 2017 and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his team will be keen to add a second Europa League title for sure, but there is not as much at stake this time around. Manchester United are currently second in the Premier League table and therefore look a certainty to play in the lucrative Champions League next season. In contrast, Arsenal has to win the Europa League to achieve that goal.
Uefa are yet to announce any potential sanctions to be imposed on Arsenal, as one of the 12 founding clubs of the European Super League (Manchester United also signed up for the Super League and therefore share the same uncertain position). But fans will hope that the Gunners are allowed to play the remaining fixtures in the Premier League and the Europa League without any undue penalties, on the basis that the ill-fated Super League was manufactured by Krownke and his fellow club owners, and has been opposed by Arteta, the players and the fans.
Discontent with Krownke is growing and fans are keen for a change in ownership of the club. The government is planning to review the whole ownership issue in England but, pending the conclusion of that review, the current ownership model remains. One long time fan is in the fortunate position of being able to take over the club and he is keen to replace Krownke.
Spotify co-founder Daniel Ek tweeted last Friday “As a kid growing up, I’ve cheered for @Arsenal as long as I can remember. If KSE (‘Kroenke Sports & Entertainment’) would like to sell Arsenal I’d be happy to throw my hat in the ring.” He hopes to put in a bid supported by three Arsenal legends – Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera and Dennis Bergkamp. It remains to be seen if Ek can put together the funds and secure the future of Arsenal as a club for fans rather than a machine to generate income, but it could be one positive outcome of the European Super League debacle.