Arsenal’s worst fears materialised on a sobering Europa League night against Unai Emery’s Villarreal

Arsenal’s worst fears materialised on a sobering Europa League night against Villarreal – the fact it was former manager Unai Emery delivering the blow twists the knife in further

  • Some ask if Emery can consider himself unlucky to be sacked at the Emirates 
  • Emery, removed in 2019, is a three-time Europa League winner with Sevilla 
  • The fact it was a former employee knocking them out will sting for the Gunners

There was enough apprehension for Arsenal given the implications this tie had for their present and future.

That the returning Unai Emery could deliver the fatal blow only increased it.

Arsenal’s underwhelming, inconsistent campaign has left some, with the benefit of hindsight, wondering if Emery can consider himself a little unlucky the way things panned out at the Emirates and questioning the managerial change.

Unai Emery saw Villarreal squeeze past Arsenal in their Europa League semi-final second leg

Emery had a turbulent spell in charge of the Gunners before being sacked in November 2019

Emery had a turbulent spell in charge of the Gunners before being sacked in November 2019

Arsenal were eighth when Emery was dismissed in November 2019 but have found themselves floundering even lower recently under Mikel Arteta. This woefully limp exit, when Arsenal performed as if they did not realise exactly what was on the line, will do nothing to silence Arteta’s critics.

But doubting the decision to dispense with Emery would be revising history and also simplistic. Arsenal were on their worst run of form since 1992 as Emery’s reign drew to a close and a defensive mess, their goal getting repeatedly peppered.

The atmosphere at the Emirates was toxic, leaving Emery regularly pleading with the supporters who wanted him gone, trying to strike up a connection that never came. His inability to get his message across was a factor there and with his players.

At times some simply could not understand him and even openly mocked Emery. ‘Good ebening Gunners,’ former playmaker Mesut Ozil tweeted before kick-off, poking fun at Emery by using a phrase that became his trademark during his time in North London.

The fact it was their former employee who knocked them out will sting for the North Londoners

The fact it was their former employee who knocked them out will sting for the North Londoners

It was an indication of what he was up against, Emery lacking the control required to instil some dressing room discipline and Arsene Wenger’s shoes ultimately proved too big to fill.

It was not all bad though. Some players had no complaints. Others liked how he worked one-on-one, used analysis and explained his demands.

In mitigation Emery wanted a big-money defender and then Wilfried Zaha in his second summer but let the club win those battles in the hope that toeing the line would help him preserve his job.

Emery was first to blood two of Arsenal’s best players this season, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. He missed out on the top four but did reach the 2019 Europa League final.

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the post twice against the Spanish outfit

Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the post twice against the Spanish outfit

In his native Spain, there are no doubts about Emery, a three times Europa League winner with Sevilla. He has the authority, credit and respect at Villarreal that he lacked in London.

Initially Emery showed why as he edged out his successor in the first leg tactical battle before Nicolas Pepe’s penalty gave Arsenal hope. 

And other than the two occasions when they needed the help of the post, Emery’s Villarreal had few problems keeping Arsenal at bay in the return. Rather than a second-leg fightback, it was Arsenal’s worst fears which materialised.

And one of Emery’s better nights at the Emirates as he reached yet another Europa League final. 

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Arsenal fans flock to Emirates in their thousands as they welcome side for Europa League semi-final

Arsenal fans flock to Emirates in their thousands as they welcome Mikel Arteta’s side ahead of crucial Europa League semi-final clash with Villarreal… as fans continue protests against Gunners owner Stan Kroenke amid interest from Spotify’s Daniel Ek 

  • Arsenal take on Villarreal in a key Europa League semi-final clash for the Gunners
  • The Gunners trail 2-1 from the first-leg in Spain and must win tonight to progress
  • Mikel Arteta asked fans to provide a raucous team bus welcome earlier this week
  • Gunners fans have continued protesting against current owner Stan Kroenke
  • The protests against Kroenke come amid Daniel Ek’s interest in buying Arsenal

Arsenal fans produced flares and created a raucous atmosphere outside the Emirates Stadium to welcome their team coach ahead of their Europa League semi-final tie with Villarreal. 

Mikel Arteta’s side face Unai Emery’s Villarreal on Thursday night in a crucial last-four clash, trailing 2-1 from the opening leg in Spain last week, meaning they must win the tie to progress to this month’s final. 

However, the atmosphere also featured more protest banners against the ownership of Stan Kroenke as the fall-out from the now-botched European Super League project continues. 

Arsenal fans welcomed their team bus into the Emirates Stadium with flares on Thursday night

The Gunners face Villarreal in a vital Europa League semi-final clash, trailing 2-1 on aggregate

The Gunners face Villarreal in a vital Europa League semi-final clash, trailing 2-1 on aggregate

Kroenke, who has been involved in the running of the club since 2011, was one of the main orchestrators of the controversial breakaway league which saw all six of England’s biggest sides pull out of the group 48 hours after signing up. 

Arsenal fans protested in their thousands before the Gunners’ league game with Everton on April 23 and continued on Thursday amid Spotify owner Daniel Ek’s plan to bid for Kroenke Sports Entertainment’s Premier League side. 

Messages on some of Thursday’s banners included, ‘Kroenke You Mug, Get Out Of Our Club’, ‘We Want Our Arsenal Back’ and ‘We Need Someone Who Gives A S***’ 

Fans continued to hold up banners protesting against current Gunners owner Stan Kroenke

Fans continued to hold up banners protesting against current Gunners owner Stan Kroenke

The protests have intensified following the contentious Super League saga last month

The protests have intensified following the contentious Super League saga last month

The Gunners need to beat Villarreal on Thursday night to progress to the Europa League final

The Gunners need to beat Villarreal on Thursday night to progress to the Europa League final

Swedish businessman Ek has brought together Arsenal legends Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira to help him with his bid, with reports claiming the Kroenke are valuing the club at £1.8billion. 

The Kroenke issued a statement after the Everton protests that they are not entertaining the idea of selling Arsenal, though it has been revealed the Premier League club have effectively been up for sale for the past two years.  

Arsenal all-time record goalscorer Henry claims the Spotify founder, who claims to be an Arsenal supporter, wants to improve the fans’ involvement in the upper echelons of the club. 

Arsenal owner Kroenke (on banner) has been widely criticised by fans over the past decade

Arsenal owner Kroenke (on banner) has been widely criticised by fans over the past decade

Henry told Sky Sports this week: ‘He approached us, we listened to him. We knew first and foremost that he wanted to involve the fans. Bring them back on board and knowing what’s happening.

‘He wants to re-inject the Arsenal DNA, the identity that for me I think is long gone. You don’t have Arsenal people there amongst the board and sometimes that can make sure it’s going in the right direction.

‘He already reached out, already said himself that he has collected the funds to make sure he can put a good bid, now they need to listen.’

Spotify founder Daniel Ek has been vocal in his desire to take over Arsenal when possible

Spotify founder Daniel Ek has been vocal in his desire to take over Arsenal when possible

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta called on the fans to provide a raucous atmosphere on Thursday

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta called on the fans to provide a raucous atmosphere on Thursday

Meanwhile, the atmosphere before the Villarreal match was actually asked for by Arsenal head coach Arteta, who wanted to see fans show their support as the team bus arrived in north London. 

Speaking about a potential fan atmosphere on Wednesday, Arteta said: ‘I think that would be great. We’ve been missing them so much. We need them and for the players and the team to feel that they are right behind them supporting them.

‘I think it is the 10th time the club has played a European semi-final, so it’s a big moment for us. Hopefully we can have them closer than we have already in the last few months.’

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Mikel Arteta thrilled with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as Arsenal captain marked return with a goal

Mikel Arteta left thrilled with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the Arsenal captain marks his return to fitness with a goal after recovering from malaria… and he hopes his star man can now lead them past Villarreal and into the Europa League final

  • Mikel Arteta hailed the return of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on Sunday 
  • The striker netted in the Gunners’ 2-0 victory over Newcastle at St James’ Park 
  • Aubameyang played 77 minutes in his first start since recovering from malaria
  • He is looking to play a part in the Europa League semi-final against Villarreal 

Mikel Arteta hailed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s return to fitness and form as the striker looks to play a part in the second leg of Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final with Villarreal on Thursday. 

Aubameyang only managed a brief appearance from the bench as the Gunners were beaten 2-1 in the first leg in Spain last week. 

But the striker played 77 minutes as Arteta’s side beat Newcastle 2-0 on Sunday and he also netted the second goal to signal he is ready to play a bigger part in the return fixture at the Emirates.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on his first start since recovering from malaria

Mikel Arteta hailed the striker's return to fitness ahead of the second leg of the Europa League semi-final with LaLiga side Villarreal

Mikel Arteta hailed the striker’s return to fitness ahead of the second leg of the Europa League semi-final with LaLiga side Villarreal

When asked if Aubameyang had played himself into contention, Arteta said: ‘We thought he wasn’t going to manage that (coming off the bench last week).

‘On Thursday, the day before, he was really struggling, to be fair, he could only manage to play 10 or 15 minutes.

‘But the day after and the day after, he started to feel better and it’s good to see that he was fine today. He performed well and he scored a goal, so it’s a real boost.’

The forward scored the second goal as Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 at St James' Park

The forward scored the second goal as Arsenal beat Newcastle 2-0 at St James’ Park

The Gunners went 2-0 down against Villarreal last week but were given a lifeline when Nicolas Pepe converted a penalty to score a crucial away goal.

Should Arsenal progress, they will likely face Manchester United in the final. The red Devils are heavy favourites having won their first leg 6-2. 

While Aubameyang’s return was pleasing for the Arsenal boss, the loss of David Luiz to injury leaves him with another problem.

The defender was forced off with a hamstring injury after making a comeback following knee surgery. 

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Bullish Saka believes Arsenal showed they are ‘better’ than Villarreal despite first-leg defeat

Bullish Bukayo Saka believes Arsenal showed they are ‘better’ than Villarreal despite Europa League semi-final first leg defeat… but admits ‘passive’ start made it ‘impossible’ for them to score in opening 45 minutes

  • Arsenal endured a nightmare start as Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol scored 
  • The Gunners then had midfielder Dani Ceballos sent off against Villarreal 
  • Bukayo Saka then won a dubious penalty, which Nicolas Pepe tucked away 
  • And the 19-year-old believes their second half display showed their superiority 

Bukayo Saka claims Arsenal showed they are a ‘better’ team that Villarreal despite losing a thrilling Europa League semi-final first leg to the Spanish outfit.

The Gunners’ endured a nightmare opening half an hour at the Estadio de la Ceramica as Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol put former Arsenal manager Unai Emery’s side into a 2-0 goal lead.

Things went from bad to worse in the second half for Mikel Arteta’s men when Spain midfielder Dani Ceballos was sent off for a second bookable offence.

Bukayo Saka claims Arsenal showed they are a ‘better’ team that Villarreal despite losing

The Gunners went two goals down in their Europa League semi-final first leg after Manu Trigueros (above) and Raul Albiol scored

The Gunners went two goals down in their Europa League semi-final first leg after Manu Trigueros (above) and Raul Albiol scored

England international Saka then won a dubious penalty after feeling contact from Trigueros, but Nicolas Pepe nevertheless converted to halve the deficit.

The Gunners will have to nevertheless overturn a 2-1 deficit at the Emirates Stadium if they want to reach a second Europa League final in three years, but Saka believes their second-half display showed they are better than their LaLiga counterparts. 

Asked on BT Sport if he thought the dynamic of the tie had changed following the second half, Saka replied: ‘Yes 100 per cent. I think we definitely showed that we are better than them, even with 10 men we were dominating.

‘It is just up to us, it is always up to us. We have a team full of quality players and when we play properly we can beat anyone and we showed that today.’

Saka won a dubious penalty in the second half but Nicolas Pepe made no mistake from the spot

Saka won a dubious penalty in the second half but Nicolas Pepe made no mistake from the spot

It is Emery’s Villarreal – who were also reduced to 10 men when Etienne Capoue was dismissed – however who lead the tie thanks to a brilliant first-half display.

But Saka, 19, slammed his side’s ‘passive’ performance in the opening 45 minutes, and admitted they were never going to score as long as that lethargy continued. 

‘There are a lot of positives which all came in the second half. But it is the semi-final of the Europa League and to start the game like that makes it impossible to have a chance of scoring,’ he added.

‘We didn’t create anything, we lost every duel, we were passive. It’s really frustrating to look back on, but I’m happy we picked ourselves up in the second half and managed to score. We have given ourselves a chance at the Emirates.’ 

Dani Ceballos and Etienne Capoue saw red in a thrilling clash at the Estadio de la Ceramica

Dani Ceballos and Etienne Capoue saw red in a thrilling clash at the Estadio de la Ceramica

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Stan Kroenke MUST invest in Arsenal’s squad this summer or step aside, according to Martin Keown

‘Let’s see the colour of their money’: Stan Kroenke MUST invest in Arsenal’s squad this summer or step aside, according to Martin Keown… but former defender admits he does not ‘necessarily believe’ they will spend

  • Arsenal sit 10th in the Premier League after a horrible league season this term 
  • Fans made their discontent at their owners known last week with a protest
  • Stan Kroenke’s son Josh insisted KSE are willing to strengthen their squad 
  • But Martin Keown said he wanted to see ‘the colour of their money’ this summer 

Martin Keown believes Stan Kroenke should sell Arsenal if he is not prepared to invest in the club’s playing squad this summer.

The Gunners sit 10th in the Premier League and look unlikely to qualify for Europe through the league this season, with inconsistency plaguing Mikel Arteta’s side.

Fans made their discontent at their American owners known last week with a protest following their involvement and subsequent withdrawal from the controversial European Super League.

Martin Keown believes Stan Kroenke should sell Arsenal if he is not prepared to invest this summer

Keown however said based on past experiences he is not confident they will spend enough

Keown however said based on past experiences he is not confident they will spend enough

Speaking at a fans’ forum last week, Stan Kroenke’s son Josh insisted KSE would be investing in the squad this summer, which he admitted he was ‘excited’ about, with Spotify owner Daniel Ek preparing a bid to buy the club.

But speaking to BT Sport, former Arsenal defender Keown said money must be spent to help see success return to the club, and urged the owners to show ‘the colour of their money’. 

‘The Kroenkes have said they are going to spend money. If they don’t they’ve got to step aside,’ Keown said.

‘I don’t necessarily believe them in what they have done so far but they are saying now it is a different situation that we are in. Money needs to be spent and they have plenty of that.

Arsenal fans protested last week against the American owner before their loss to Everton

Arsenal fans protested last week against the American owner before their loss to Everton

‘They have shown that with what they have spent on shares, they spent £1billion to buy the shares to make the club worth £2-3bn, it is a fantastic investment.

‘They are surely going to want to invest in that. Whether we believe them, let’s see, let’s see the colour of their money, and if they are not prepared to do that, then step aside because we want to see success return to the football club.’

Gunners boss Mikel Arteta came out in support of the owners, insisting they are ‘fully committed’ to the project.

But Keown insisted that while he is not suspicious of Arteta’s words, he believes KSE must put their money where their mouth is. 

Mikel Arteta backed the Arsenal owners and said they were fully committed to the project

Mikel Arteta backed the Arsenal owners and said they were fully committed to the project

‘If he [Arteta] honestly believes… look he is having conversations with the owners and he is looking ahead to next season and targets and funds will be available, I am not suspicious of that,’ Keown added.

‘Let’s just see what happens, the proof’s in the pudding isn’t it? Put their money where their mouth is and secure the future of the football club, in difficult times it has to be said, but we need expenditure there.’

Kroenke’s ownership has also been in question due to a reportedly imminent bid from Daniel Ek, the co-owner of Spotify, to buy Arsenal with a £1.8bn offer.

Arsene Wenger appeared to offer his support to Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp – with the former Invincibles said to be backing the bid – but said the best deals are done when nobody knows about them.

Daniel Ek, the co-owner of Spotify, is planning to buy the club with a £1.8billion bid

Daniel Ek, the co-owner of Spotify, is planning to buy the club with a £1.8billion bid

And Keown agreed, but insists his former-team mates would not be getting involved if this was not a serious offer. 

‘Of course, let’s see if it is for real, I quite liked Wenger’s stance on it that usually when a deal goes through we hear nothing to the last minute,’ he said.

‘Let us hope it is not publicity for him or for Spotify, he is for real and the former players that are getting involved would not be getting involved if they didn’t think this was an opportunity, but let’s see what the current owners want to do.’

Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira are all supporting the Swede's plan

Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira are all supporting the Swede’s plan

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Arsenal boss Arteta hopes strong statement from Kroenkes will end speculation about Spotify takeover

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta hopes strong statement from Kroenkes will end speculation about potential takeover… after Spotify founder Daniel Ek touted plans for £1.8bn bid with the help of club legends Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira

  • Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is keen to avoid distractions ahead of Europa League 
  • He said on Wednesday that he hopes strong Kroenkes statement will end chatter
  • Spotify founder Daniel Ek has been teasing a £1.8bn bid to buy club from KSE 
  • Supporters protested against the current owners in wake of Super League plans 

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta is hopeful a strong statement from the club’s owners will end speculation surrounding a potential takeover bid from Spotify founder Daniel Ek.

Swedish billionaire Ek last week sent a tweet saying he would be interested in purchasing the Premier League club, which is owned by Stan Kroenke through his Kroenke Sports and Entertainment (KSE) business.

But any potential deal looks to have been scuppered following a staunch response from the Gunners’ American ownership, who say they have not received any bids.

Mikel Arteta is hoping that KSE’s strong statement will quell talk of a potential takeover

Fans are desperate to see the Kroenkes leave, with the Spotify founder teasing a takeover

Fans are desperate to see the Kroenkes leave, with the Spotify founder teasing a takeover

‘In recent days we have noted media speculation regarding a potential takeover bid for Arsenal Football Club,’ read a KSE statement.

‘We remain 100 per cent committed to Arsenal *and are not selling* any stake in the club.’

Speaking ahead of Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final first-leg tie against Villarreal, Arteta was pleased with the response.

‘It closes a lot of the speculation regarding what could happen because they moved straight away and made very clear lines of their understanding and what they want to do with the football club,’ he said.

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to the club

Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to the club

Spotify's Daniel Ek tweeted about his interest in buying Arsenal from Kroenke last week

Spotify’s Daniel Ek tweeted about his interest in buying Arsenal from Kroenke last week

‘We spoke to them and I think it was very clear. They have shown their commitment and ambition to the football club because we all want a successful team on the pitch. 

‘It was very clear and took any doubt out of the situation.’

Asked if the takeover talk, coupled with fan protests against Kroenke ahead of Friday’s Premier League defeat to Everton, could cause a distraction ahead of their last-four tie, Arteta replied: ‘A lot of talks and a lot of speculation has been surrounding the situation the last week or so.

Swedish billionaire Ek has been linked with a reported £1.8billion bid in the coming days

Swedish billionaire Ek has been linked with a reported £1.8billion bid in the coming days

Dennis Bergkamp (L), Thierry Henry (C) and Patrick Vieira (R) are part of Daniel Ek's consortium

Dennis Bergkamp (L), Thierry Henry (C) and Patrick Vieira (R) are part of Daniel Ek’s consortium

‘Our fans raised their voices during the match against Everton, but now we have a clear and committed statement from the ownership, so I think that is gone when they said what they did (on Tuesday night).

‘I cannot control the speculation and what is going on.

‘What I like to know and talk about is the reality and the reality is that we have owners who are really, really committed and want a successful team on the pitch and are going to do everything on the pitch to achieve that.’

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Arsenal legend Lauren says Gunners MUST win Europa League this season or risk being left behind

Arsenal legend Lauren insists the Gunners MUST win Europa League this season or they risk being left behind by their Premier League rivals ahead of Thursday’s showdown with Villarreal

  • Arsenal are 10th in the Premier League, so Europa League victory is imperative
  • Lauren believes reaching the Champions League would boost the club’s rebuild
  • The Gunners face Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday 

Arsenal legend Lauren believes his former side could be left behind in the Premier League if they fail to return to the Champions League next season.

After Friday’s 1-0 defeat by Everton, Mikel Arteta’s men are languishing down in 10th in the Premier League standings with Europa League glory being their only realistic chance of clinching a place in next season’s elite club competition.

They face LaLiga outfit Villarreal in the first leg of their semi-final on Thursday and Lauren has stressed just how big a match it is for the future of the club.

Lauren has warned Arsenal of the impact of missing out on next season’s Champions League

The Gunners hero believes a place in the competition will help them strengthen dramatically

The Gunners hero believes a place in the competition will help them strengthen dramatically

‘You need to play the Champions League every single year, that will give you the tools and ability to attract those players in order to win the league,’ he told The Mirror.

‘Honestly, we are one step behind Manchester City, Chelsea or even Liverpool. Unless you have the tools, then you can’t win the league.’

Lauren has been impressed by the displays of Arsenal’s younger players, even though the team are drifting into mid-table mediocrity.

He believes that regardless of where Arsenal finish in the league this season, Europa League glory and a Champions League place would provide a springboard for the Gunners to become Premier League contenders once again.

‘Bukayo Saka is absolutely brilliant,’ Lauren said. ‘Emile Smith-Rowe can play any position, he plays it simple, makes the right pass at the right moment. Bukayo doesn’t rush his game.

Lauren heaped praise on Arsenal youngsters EmilE Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka

Lauren heaped praise on Arsenal youngsters EmilE Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka

Mikel Arteta's Arsenal face Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal face Villarreal in the Europa League semi-final on Thursday

‘But those two players and the other young players need other big players to fulfil their potential and they need the team to progress.

‘If they want to catch up, they have to make a real effort to build in the long term with more top players. You can’t compete with Manchester City, Chelsea, if you want to win the league you have to fight with the same weapons.’

Arsenal meet the Spaniards, who are managed by former Gunners boss Unai Emery, away in the first leg on Thursday with the return leg a week later at the Emirates. 

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Arsenal ‘open contract talks with Emile Smith Rowe’ after the midfielder’s impressive season

Arsenal ‘open contract talks with Emile Smith Rowe’ after the midfielder’s impressive season… as Mikel Arteta looks to tie down another youngster to a long-term deal following Folarin Balogun’s extension

  • Arsenal are looking to tie down Emile Smith Rowe to a new long-term contract 
  • The midfielder has become a key part of Mikel Arteta’s side this season
  • The 20-year-old has made 31 appearances in all competitions this term 
  • The Gunners secured the future of striker Folarin Balogun this week

Arsenal will look to tie down Emile Smith Rowe to a new long-term contract after securing the future of Folarin Balogun, according to reports.

The midfielder, who is contracted at the club until 2023, has become a key part of Mikel Arteta’s side this season with five goals and seven assists in 31 appearances across all competitions.

According to The Athletic, the Gunners have begun talks over an extension and are confident the 20-year-old will committ his long-term future to the club. 

Arsenal are reportedly looking to tie down Emile Smith Rowe to a new long-term contract

Sportsmail reported in January that the youngster was set to be offered a £40,000-per-week deal after his impressive performances.

Buakyo Saka signed a new contract earlier this season while Balogun put pen to paper on Monday.

Arteta was full of praise for Smith Rowe and Saka after the pair played a starring role in Arsenal’s victory over Slavia Prague in the Europa League earlier this month.

The Gunners have already secured the future of 19-year-old striker Folarin Balogun

The Gunners have already secured the future of 19-year-old striker Folarin Balogun 

The 20-year-old has had an impressive season with five goals and seven assists in 31 games

The 20-year-old has had an impressive season with five goals and seven assists in 31 games

‘For me it is a joy to watch them play, to watch them every day in training,’ Arteta said when asked about their performances.

‘How they behave, the passion and the commitment they have for the club. And then how much they like to play football.

‘You have to let them express themselves, and give them certain frameworks to work in and some ideas on how they can exploit their qualities. Then it is up to them and I thought both of them were really good today.’

Smith Rowe made his first-team debut in 2018 before being sent out on loan to RB Leipzig and Huddersfield.

Since returning from his spell with the Championship club last season, he has cemented a regular place in the senior squad and has drawn praise for his eye-catching performances.

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Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are ‘a good marriage’, says Unai Emery ahead of Europa League clash

Arsenal and Mikel Arteta are ‘a good marriage’, says Unai Emery… as Villarreal boss insists he has ‘good memories’ from difficult 18-month spell in England as he gets set to face his former side this week

  • Unai Emery believes Mikel Arteta is in a good position to be a success at Arsenal
  • The Villarreal boss welcomes his former side to Spain in the Europa League
  • Emery insists he has positive memories from his 18 months in charge of Gunners
  • Spaniard gave Bukayo Saka his Arsenal debut and he praised the teenager’s form

Unai Emery believes his replacement as Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is a good fit for the north London club. 

The two managers will face off on Thursday night when Emery welcomes his former side to Spain for the first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash with Villarreal. 

Speaking ahead of the match, he was full of praise for his successor and feels Arteta’s history as a player at Arsenal is a big advantage.

Unai Emery’s Villarreal side host Arsenal in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final tie

The Spaniard believes Mikel Arteta is a good fit to be the Arsenal boss and can be a success

The Spaniard believes Mikel Arteta is a good fit to be the Arsenal boss and can be a success

‘Arteta is putting his own stamp on things – in the way they play, it’s easy to identify he’s bringing back that Arsenal tradition of playing attractive football,’ Emery said.

‘His first steps as Pep Guardiola’s assistant have helped him to position himself in this new profession which is being the manager. 

‘Now he has been given this opportunity at Arsenal, and I think it’s a good place to develop because he is much loved by Arsenal thanks to the time he spent in the team.

‘He had his time [playing] there with Arsene Wenger so I’m sure he can apply everything he learned. I think it’s a good marriage: Arteta-Arsenal, Arsenal-Arteta.’ 

Emery feels Arteta's history as a player with the club has helped the fans to warm to him

Emery feels Arteta’s history as a player with the club has helped the fans to warm to him

Emery spent just 18 months at the helm in north London, narrowly missing out on the top four by a point in his only full season and losing heavily in the Europa League final to Chelsea. 

The 49-year-old insists he has positive memories from his time in England, even if he is disappointed that his spell was ultimately not as successful as he had hoped it would be. 

‘Arsenal’s history is renowned throughout the world,’ Emery said. ‘I am lucky enough to have coached over there, although it ended in unwanted circumstances.

‘Now I’m happy where I am and appreciate my new coaching job at Villarreal. I have great memories from my one year and four or five-month stay at Arsenal. 

The 49-year-old reached the Europa League final with Arsenal in his one full season in charge

The 49-year-old reached the Europa League final with Arsenal in his one full season in charge

‘We experienced great moments together on the pitch, such as reaching and preparing for the final against Chelsea, and in the day-to-day stuff as well, at the training ground. 

‘Those are great memories but now we are on different teams. I want to win for myself and for Villarreal.’

The Spaniard also revealed his admiration for many of the Arsenal players, and reserved particular praise for Bukayo Saka who has been the Gunners’ standout player this season at just 19 years old.

‘There are a lot of players that are still there, players who started their careers with me as their coach,’ Emery said. 

‘I always tell this little anecdote about Bukayo Saka. He made his [Premier League] debut against Fulham, which I remember we won 4-1. I think it kicked off at 12:30, and he played the last eight to ten minutes and didn’t touch the ball. Now he’s establishing himself at a high level.

Emery gave Bukayo Sakah his Arsenal debut and jokes he has come a long way since that point

Emery gave Bukayo Sakah his Arsenal debut and jokes he has come a long way since that point

‘Many of the players I coached [are still at Arsenal]. I have fond memories of them: Hector Bellerin, [Calum] Chambers, [Rob] Holding: exceptional guys; [Mohamed] Elneny, who is an extraordinary player and an extraordinary person.

‘They have [Alexandre] Lacazette, [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang, [Gabriel] Martinelli, who is becoming more important now after a serious injury.

 ‘[Nicolas] Pepe is also an important player, who I think is settling and getting more and more confident. Then you have the younger players such as [Emile] Smith Rowe. Smith Rowe played the pre-season with us at the age of 17, and he has gradually grown after loan spells away.

‘You also have [Bernd] Leno, who is a great goalkeeper and good with his feet. He has significant experience.’

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