Friday’s big stories

Arsenal were a shambles against Villarreal

Arsenal were a mess in their Europa League semi-final against Villarreal. They were lucky to come away with a 2-1 defeat. The club are languishing in 10th spot in the Premier League, and, thus, the Europa League represents their only hope of salvaging another desperately disappointing campaign.
Premier League
2021-22 football season start dates across Europe: Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and more
17 HOURS AGO
Now part - read a lot - of their above predicament is down to poor, misguided recruitment. This Arsenal squad is its worst in years - maybe decades - and they are hurtling towards their worst season in years, maybe decades.
However, the buck for Thursday's shambles stops with Mikel Arteta, whose bizarre team selection set the tone for an abysmal first-half display that saw the Gunners 2-0 down inside half an hour.

Villarreal's Argentinian defender Juan Foyth (L) challenges Arsenal's French-born Ivorian midfielder Nicolas Pepe during the Europa League semi-final first leg football match between Villarreal and Arsenal at the Ceramica stadium in Vila-real on April 29,

Image credit: Getty Images

They were, with Emile Smith Rowe positioned at the point of their attack, toothless going forward and looked rudderless at the back. They had two shots on target the whole game and their defending was, at times, laughable. That Arsenal came away from Estadio de la Cerámica trailing by only one goal and with a chance of making the Europa League final was more luck than Arteta's judgement.
Arsenal sacked Unai Emery - now in charge at Villarreal - following a 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt in November 2019 with the club in eighth in the league. The Gunners made that decision 18 months into a two-year contract. A further 18 months down the line and Arsenal are in worse shape.
As it stands, after four years toiling away in Europe's secondary competition, the club are staring down the barrel of no European football next season. The club are in decline and Arteta - rather than arresting it - is contributing to it. The Gunners are a mess.

Manchester United into the final then

Manchester United are - barring an almighty collapse - into the final of the Europa League. They came from behind to beat Roma 6-2 at Old Trafford, with Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani putting on an absolute clinic.
Fernandes scored two and assisted a further two, Cavani scored a brace and laid on a sublime assist for Mason Greenwood and Pogba also got on the scoresheet in a cavalier performance. United are far from perfect - in fact, they are fairly flawed - but they are fun and are relatively successful.

Manchester United run riot to put six past Roma

Image credit: Getty Images

So, how do United push on from here? The best bit of business they can do this summer is retain the services of both Cavani and Pogba, who could both leave the club. Cavani, particularly, looks close to an exit and he has been nothing short of exceptional in his debut season in England. From there, sign a mobile, dominant centre-half and they are not too far away from taking the next step. And the next step is actually challenging Manchester City for the title.
Neither United or Arsenal are perfect, but at least there has been discernible progress at Old Trafford.

Bruno loves a penalty

Bruno Fernandes loves a penalty. Literally loves it. He has now scored 20 for Manchester United. He signed for the club last January.

Barcelona love a crisis

Thursday should have been a good news day for Barcelona. It was widely reported that Lionel Messi had agreed to remain at the club. And not only that, but on reduced terms to help the club navigate the financial turmoil it finds itself in. That commitment was contingent on the club being active in the summer market to put itself in the best position to challenge for the Champions League next season.
Later on Thursday, the club had a match against Granada. Win and they were top of La Liga. They did not win. They didn't even draw. They lost. And manager Ronald Koeman contrived to get himself sent off. Barcelona's chances of winning La Liga are no longer in their own hands. The result means with just five games left, the top four in Spain - Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla - are separated by just four points.
Thursday should have been a good day - it ended up being the day that they lost their chance to win the title. This club loves a crisis.

HAT-TIP

The European Super League - and its fallout - has seen a lot of chat about the 50+1 model in Germany. Raphael Honigstein of the Athletic goes through the positives and negatives of the model.
The fans’ legally enshrined involvement makes those running the club accountable to the members. Bayern Munich supporters, for example, could call for an AGM and remove chairman Herbert Hainer. Such upheaval is extremely rare. But since those in charge don’t own the club, but run on it on behalf of the members, there’s a very different power dynamic. Fans aren’t just consumers, able to vote with their wallet if they disagree — they can actually vote for (or against) the people in charge. And because there are no owners as such, people who lead clubs tend to be local business men or women, as well as former footballers. Their public profiles increase accountability, unlike in England, for example, where many Premier League clubs are being run by faceless administrators on behalf of absentee owners.

COMING UP

Southampton take on Leicester hoping to avenge their nine-goal drubbing earlier on in the season, and the pick of the fixtures over the weekend include United against Liverpool in the Premier League and Chelsea against Bayern in the Champions League.
Andi Thomas will be here on Monday with all the chat from the weekend.
Transfers
Arsenal close in on £50m signing as White undergoes medical
YESTERDAY AT 09:08
Premier League
Manchester United sign Raphael Varane from Real Madrid
27/07/2021 AT 18:15