Arsenal were knocked out of the Europa League semifinals after losing to Villarreal 1-2 on aggregate.
Arsenal had lost the Europe League semifinal first leg in Spain a week ago but had scored a crucial away goal. It gave them hope of a turnaround in the second leg at the Emirates stadium. But the Gunners were disappointingly held to a goalless draw by Villarreal on Thursday night as the Spanish club progressed through to the final at their expense.
Emile Smith Rowe’s commanding performance was on the few positives from a disappointing night for Arsenal. The 20-year-old was at the heart of their attacking play, constantly demanding the ball and trying to make things happen. Manager Mikel Arteta was particularly pleased about the way he carried himself in the second half.
Along with Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka is another player with a bright future at the club. Speaking about young players offering hope for the future, Arteta said, “It gives me a lot of confidence because they have shown what they can do.”
“It’s true that playing in a semi-final at this level is a different story, but as well they need the right surroundings around them to grow, without putting too much pressure on them.”
Arteta was especially happy with Smith Rowe taking the responsibility on himself, trying hard to change the scoreboard. “[Emile] took responsibility in the second half, he really tried,” he added.
“He had a big chance to score and I think he was feeling responsible, which is a good reaction from him but we have to bear in mind that those players have never played a game like that, it was their first experience and they have to go through that – and they will learn.”
Known for his bravery on the ball, one of Smith Rowe’s biggest qualities is how he keeps demanding possession. “If you don’t have this quality you can’t play at the highest level,” Arteta said.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are, it has to be in your system and part of you that you want to be able to take the ball anywhere, under any conditions and any kind of pressure.”
Villarreal will play Manchester United in the Europa League final on 26th May in Gdansk.