It is the UEFA Europa League that is back this Thursday as the competition is now in its dying embers and with two English teams still in it, we could have yet another all-English Europa League final, something Arsenal were a part of a couple of years ago in 2019. Arsenal are hoping to be a part of it this year as well, as the Gunners travel to Spain to face the Yellow Submarine in Villarreal for the 1st leg of their Europa League semi-final. However, with both teams faltering on the weekend, who will come out on top on Thursday?
Can Unai Emery cause more misery upon Mikel Arteta and Arsenal?
Villarreal, albeit not impressive in La Liga this season, have done very well in the Europa League as they have defeated the likes of Dinamo Zagreb and Dynamo Kyiv in the quarters and Round of 16 respectively. While those may not be ‘big clubs’, they are certainly not easy customers as Zagreb showed by eliminating Tottenham in the Round of 16.
Emery’s men have dominated most games in the Europa League this season with the side averaging a 55% possession while also achieving an 85% pass completion per 90mins this season. The likes of Etienne Capoue, Dani Parejo, and Manu Trigueros have been influential at the base of midfield and can control the game due to an excellent understanding between the trio.
The Yellow Submarine lost 2-1 on the weekend to Barcelona, but what was admirable was Villarreal’s pressing even after going a man down in the 65th minute as Emery’s men pushed for the equalizer but to no avail.
Unai Emery, sacked only 17 months ago by Arsenal, is very aware of the players the Gunners possess while he will also try to target their weaknesses, something Arsenal have in abundance this season. However, Emery will have to do so without the experience of Vincent Iborra in midfield, however, the likes of Etienne Capoue and Dani Parejo are more than capable of causing enough problems to Arsenal from central midfield. Colombian winger Pervis Estupian will also be available for selection after being out for a major part of April.
With Gerard Moreno in sensational form this season, Villarreal will like their chances against Arsenal and will be hoping to take a lead to the Emirates next week.
Is it make-or-break for Mikel Arteta now?
Arsenal have been shambolic in the Premier League this season as they succumbed to their 13th defeat of the season on the weekend, however, the Gunners have performed reasonably well in the Europa League so far and now face a daunting test against former manager Unai Emery’s Villarreal.
Mikel Arteta’s men were horrific in the game against Everton on the weekend, as the Gunners could muster only 3 shots on target out of a total of 14. While Arsenal were unlucky in conceding the goal, it was a monumental mistake by Bernd Leno, who has not looked all that comfortable in recent weeks. Matt Ryan, Arsenal’s backup goalkeeper is the man in the form currently and it does like the Australian will start the game on Thursday.
While playing Granit Xhaka as a left-back might have worked for Arteta in some games, he is not the temporary answer for Kieran Tierney, who is out at least until mid-May. Dani Ceballos was awful in midfield, as the only positive thing for Arteta was Odegaard’s introduction into the game after a two-week injury. The Norwegian was immediately into the thick of it as he was making runs beyond the defender and trying to create all the time, however, he had nothing to show for it by the end.
With Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette still out due to sickness and injury, Eddie Nketiah might lead the line again as he did so on the weekend. While Gabriel Martinelli is also a good alternative, Nketiah is proper number 9 and Arteta feels that the forward could come up with the answers on Thursday.
David Luiz is still out with a knee injury, however, the defender might be available for the second leg against Villarreal on May 6.
Mikel Arteta is hoping to play Champions League football next season, and while the league performance is nothing to write home about, Arteta trusts his side to come through in the Europa League, as they have done so brilliantly so far.
Villarreal: Geronimo Rulli- Alfonso Pedraza; Pau Torres; Raul Albiol; Juan Foyth- Etienne Capoue; Manu Trigueros; Dani Parejo; Samuel Chukwueze- Gerard Moreno; Paco Alcacer.
Arsenal: Matt Ryan- Rob Holding, Cedric Soares, Pablo Mari, Hector Bellerin- Thomas Partey; Granit Xhaka-Emile Smith Rowe, Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe- Eddie Nketiah.