Woodwork thwarts Aubameyang twice to deny Arsenal showpiece Man Utd final

Date published: Thursday 6th May 2021 9:55 - Steve Pearson

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The width of the post denied Arsenal on two occasions as the Gunners missed the opportunity to set up a tantalising Europa League final clash with Man Utd.

Seeking to set up a likely all-English Europa League final with Man Utd, Arsenal sought a fast start to overturn their first-leg deficit. It was Villarreal who came closest to notching the game’s opener, however, with Samuel Chukwueze cutting in from the left and forcing a fine diving stop from Bernd Leno with a long-distance strike.


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Bukayo Saka began to offer a threat down the right, but prising open the stubborn Spanish defence was proving difficult in the early stages.

Dani Parejo then had Arsenal hearts in mouths when curling a free-kick on to the roof of the net mid-way through the first half. Leno appeared beaten, but the midfielder failed to engineer the dip required as the Gunners let out a huge sigh of relief.

Moments of magic at the other end were worryingly sparse, until Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rattled the woodwork after showing superb technique.

Villarreal twice failed to clear a cross, with the ball falling to Aubameyang on both occasions. At the second attempt, the Gabon hitman volleyed goalward and struck the post with an outside-of-the-foot effort.

The half had begun to liven up nicely as the interval approached. Aubameyang was again in the thick of things, dancing inside a defender before unleashing a curling effort at Villarreal stopper Gerónimo Rulli.

The save should have been regulation for the Argentine, but an embarrassing blunder was narrowly avoided when recovering in the nick of time after spilling the ball between his legs.

Pablo Mari experienced his own near-miss moments later, this time the centre-half prodding an incisive pass barely beyond the post of his own goal with the last meaningful action of the half.

Arsenal flew out of the traps following the break, showing a far greater sense of urgency with Arteta’s words seemingly ringing in their ears.

Kieran Tierney displayed his attacking touch, chipping a through ball to Nicolas Pepe who fired agonisingly wide with a sweet half-volley.

Emile Smith Rowe began to pull the strings as the game became stretched. If Arsenal’s comeback hopes were to come to fruition, the young playmaker’s fingerprints would likely be all over it.

Gabriel Martinelli replaced Martin Odegaard as Arteta shuffled his deck. With 25 minutes remaining, the match hung in the balance with Arsenal one goal away from reaching the final.

Rob Holding rose high to meet a Saka corner, but failed to keep his header down as the increasingly agitated Arteta failed to suppress his frustration.

Set pieces were proving a fruitful avenue, but again Holding’s radar was off when glancing a superb cross beyond the scrambling Rulli.

Arsenal were then in full voice when appealing for a penalty after Thomas Partey took a tumble inside the box. The decision went the other way as the feeling this may not be Arsenal’s night began to take hold.

That feeling was never more evident seconds later when Aubameyang struck the woodwork for the second time after rising high to meet Hector Bellerin’s cross.

That would prove to be the striker’s last contribution, with Alexandre Lacazette replacing his fellow forward in a final roll of the dice.

The final stages saw Arsenal flood the Villarreal area, but still the fine margins continued to go against them as the visitors stood firm.

The Spanish side compounded the Gunners’ frustrations, successfully managing the clock in the final few minutes to deliver another massive blow to Arsenal’s underwhelming season.

 

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