The UEFA Europa League semifinals are set with two English sides battling to set up an all Premier League final in Gdansk next month. Manchester United's progress to the last four was rarely in doubt and certainly any lingering hopes Granada might have had were killed when Edinson Cavani scored in the sixth minute on Thursday.
Arsenal's task looked tougher from the outset but a brilliant 4-0 win away to Slavia Prague carried them through, three goals in six superb minutes setting them up for an easy night at the Eden Arena. Early goals also settled the tie for Villarreal even if a late goal from Mislav Orsic might have prompted nervy moments in Spain. The drama came in Italy but Roma survived late pressure to earn a 1-1 home draw that sets them up for a semifinal against Manchester United. Arsenal will face Villarreal on the other side of the bracket.
Europa League scores
Slavia Prague 0, Arsenal, 4 (Arsenal win 5-1 on aggregate)
Villarreal 2, Dinamo Zagreb 1 (Villarreal win 3-1 on aggregate)
Manchester United 2, Granada, 0 (Manchester United win 4-0 on aggregate)
AS Roma 1, Ajax 1 (Roma win 3-2 on aggregate)
Villarreal vs. Arsenal
Manchester United vs. Roma
Arsenal ease to the semis…
This looked like being a challenging test for Mikel Arteta's side, playing at a ground where only Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan had won since the start of the 2019-20 season. Arsenal had certainly been the superior team in the first leg but a late equalizer seemed to have their season hanging by a string.
Yet the pressure of the occasion did not weigh down this team, led by fearless youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe. The latter tapped in the rebound when his fellow Hale End graduate's shot was parried onto the post but VAR denied the youngster by the finest of margins. Even that did not send jitters through the visiting side, moments later they were ahead when Nicolas Pepe danced his way into shooting space at the back post and hammered past Ondrej Kolar at the near post.
Arsenal smelled blood and killed the tie in six minutes. First Smith Rowe darted through and fed Pepe, felled by Jakub Hromada in the penalty area to allow Alexandre Lacazette to convert from the spot. Saka then drove infield off the right and hammered a shot into the bottom corner.
Slavia had no response other than to substitute their best players and accept the way the tide was heading with Lacazette netting in the 77th minute to add further gloss to the scoreline. Arsenal's season remains alive and if they can continue in the same vein in the next three games it will take an impressive opponent indeed to stop them.
…where they will meet a familiar foe
That would be a Villarreal side that have cruised through this competition with 11 wins and a draw to their name so far. Dinamo Zagreb proved they were no pushovers in knocking out Tottenham having been 2-0 down from the round of 16 first leg but El Submarino Amarillo were a far more competent outfit, killing off the tie before the interval with goals from Paco Alcacer and Gerard Moreno.
The Spain international now needs one goal to draw level with a trio of leaders at the top of the Europa League scoring charts and on current form he looks like getting there with eight from his last six games. His goal to settle Thursday's tie was as impressive as they come as Moreno pounced on the rebound from a blocked shot before slamming an off-balanced shot into the far corner.
Victory for Villarreal, who have lost both their European ties against Arsenal, sets up a return for Unai Emery to the Emirates Stadium for the first time since his sacking in December 2019. It may be a cause for relief that there will be no supporters in the ground for the second leg with the 49-year-old having left north London an extremely unpopular figure among supporters.
Roma edge the most engrossing tie
With Manchester United having effectively confirmed their passage to the last four when Cavani scored in the sixth minute to give them a 3-0 aggregate lead over Granada the late drama in the quarterfinals was to come in the Eternal City as Roma held on to a 1-1 draw that took them to the semis 3-2 on aggregate.
The visitors needed to overcome a 2-1 deficit to advance to the semifinals and a rematch of the 2017 final and they certainly dictated terms in the tie, controlling possession without creating many chances to test Pau Lopez in the first half bar a missed effort by Davy Klaasen in the 13th minute.
The introduction of Brian Brobbey at the interval offered the visitors the attacking punch they needed and his pace seemed to take the Roma defense by surprise in the 49th minute as he burst into the gap between two defenders, reaching the ball before Pau Lopez and prodding it into the net. The Italian side was rocking and soon after Ajax looked to have the second they needed when Dusan Tadic turned the ball into the bottom corner only for VAR to indicate that a foul on Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the build-up meant the goal could not stand.
That seemed to be the wake up call that Roma needed and an excellent run down the left by youngster Riccardo Calafiori ended with a low cross deflecting into the path of Edin Dzeko, whose finish seemed to be enough to end Ajax's resolve. The Giallorossi are back in the semifinals of European competition for the first time since 2017-18, when they lost to Liverpool in the Champions League.