Mikel Arteta was warned he is now under enormous pressure after Arsenal crashed out of Europe against Villarreal.
Arteta insisted he still has faith in his ability to manage Arsenal, but is braced for the focus on his future to ramp up following his side’s woeful exit.
Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, Arsenal produced a lacklustre response in the return leg at the Emirates against former manager Unai Emery‘s side.
Arsenal were knocked out of the Europa League in the semi-final by Unai Emery’s Villarreal
The Gunners drew 0-0 and exited 2-1 on aggregate at the hands of their former boss Emery
They hit the post twice through captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang but managed just two shots on target.
Arsenal, ninth in the Premier League, are now staring at the possibility of a first season without European football since 1995-96.
Sportsmail‘s Martin Keown told BT Sport: ‘The manager comes under enormous pressure, you start to look at the wisdom of a young manager coming in to take a job here. It’s a huge job, massive job at this football club.
‘You have to be a quick learner as a manager. I’m not saying he isn’t going to be manager of the club, that’s a decision that will be made through the summer.
‘It will have to be an incredible start to next season if he is to stay in the job. He’s under huge pressure now. Big decisions to be made at the football club all round at the moment.
Iconic former defender Martin Keown savaged Mikel Arteta’s side for their poor performance
Emery watched Villarreal squeeze past Arsenal in their Europa League semi-final second leg
‘The team didn’t turn up, the tactics – he (Arteta) was outsmarted by the previous manager (Emery) in both games, which is a bit of an embarrassment.
‘The false nine and and the way he changed the midfield today – it looked brand new to us, we looked lost and they (Villarreal) engaged us high up the pitch and made us nervy.’
Fierce criticism from Arsenal supporters has intensified too and Arteta said: ‘We have to show that (our response) on the pitch, it’s not about talking.
‘Yes (I still have faith in my ability to do the job), yes (I can understand why there will be focus on me). Everybody’s job is under scrutiny. I feel pressure all the time as I want to do as well as I can for the team, for every supporter here and for our fans.
‘We are devastated. We had so much enthusiasm and desire to be in that final, have a chance to win that title and be in the Champions League next season. It’s a huge blow.’
The result – their third European semi-final exit in their last four attempts – also marked the 10th time they have failed to score in a home match in a single season for the first time in their history.
Emery had a turbulent spell in charge of the Gunners before being sacked in November 2019
The fact it was their former employee who knocked them out will sting for the North Londoners
Arsenal lost Granit Xhaka in the warm-up to injury and had to start Kieran Tierney at left-back despite him being well short of match-fitness after a knee injury with Cedric Soares hospitalised this week, Arteta revealed.
They were also without the injured David Luiz, and Alexandre Lacazette was limited to a ten minute run out off the bench in his first appearance back after a hamstring injury.
Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was able to start, though is still working his way back to full fitness after contracting malaria.
Arteta said: ‘When you play this knockout game you need your best players at their best and we didn’t have enough of those. But it’s no excuses. The way we started in Villarreal was not good enough.
‘We haven’t played our best over the two legs, certainly in the first half in Villarreal and the first half today, and we conceded a set piece which determined the tie.
Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hit the post twice against the Spanish outfit
Gunners legend Freddie Ljungberg also weighed in on the side’s performance at the Emirates
‘We were very imprecise with the ball. We were a bit tense as well. We got better and more dominant in the second half and created enough chances over the two ties but not enough to win it.
‘Last year we had to earn our way into Europe by a different way by winning the FA Cup and this year the only way to do it now is through the Premier League so we know what we have ahead of us.’
The exit effectively ends Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for Europe, shortly after the club were prepared to join the closed-shop European Super League and calling into question their suitability for a competition with 12 of the best sides in Europe.
Fellow Gunners legend Freddie Ljungberg, part of the 2003-04 Invincibles side, concluded: ‘I’m a bit in shock unfortunately. I thought Arsenal would definitely go through. Win at the Emirates and put pressure on. There was no pressure really and Villarreal was the better team in both legs.
‘It’s an emotional evening. It’s reality. We are far behind in the league and out of Europe. So a lot of people are asking questions after this and feeling very low. There are a lot of young players in this squad, we need to look after them so they’re not scarred but it’s tough today.’