It’s the Europa League semi-finals. Arsenal up against their former boss Unai Emery Villereal. When it comes to domestic performance, neither teams are as good as it was expected to be. Their European performance on the other hand has been nothing short of impressive. Every team that has made their way to the semi-finals of a tournament has proven themselves enough to be worthy of the position they are in and both, Arsenal & Villarreal have displayed their desperation to stay in European competitions.
STORY SO FAR…
Arsenal has been in a series of turmoil this season with early elimination from the domestic cup competitions and inconsistent performance in the league. A series of injuries also became one of the many factors that affected Arsenal’s performance. But they made sure to survive the brunt of the Europa League on several occasions this season. As it stands many find the Gunners to prevail in their following fixture against the Spanish side.
Villarreal had an impressive group stage performance this season with 5 wins and a draw. Despite their poor performance in the league, they made sure to emerge victorious on multiple occasions in the Europa League. Villarreal is yet to lose a match in the Europa League this season. Surely the brilliance of Unai Emery is on display at the moment. Unai Emery has been a masterclass when it comes to Europa having won this competition three times in a row with Sevilla before joining PSG and later on, Arsenal. In his first season with the Gunners, he managed to take the London side to the finals but couldn’t win it for the 4th time. Following his unsavory departure mid-season, Emery joined Villarreal the following season on a 3-year deal. He has been nothing short of impressive given the resources he has.
SIGNIFICANCE OF THIS FIXTURE
Arsenal and Villarreal are having a disappointing season in their respective leagues. The Gunners are 10th in the Premier League whereas Villarreal is 7th in LaLiga. Both teams are least likely to qualify for European football next season based on their domestic merit. The only possibility these 2 teams have is to win the Europa League.
Arsenal won the FA Cup last season which gave them the ticket to the Europa League this season. Having been eliminated from the cup competition means they need to secure a top 6 position to earn their spot in any European competition for the next season. As it stands currently, the odds are against the Gunners to feature in European competitions next season. Winning the Europa League is their only way now.
Villarreal and Arsenal share a similar background story as even the Spanish side got knocked out of the Copa Del Rey which would have cemented their Europa hopes for next season. Just like the London side, Villarreal needs to win the Europa League to ensure their European involvement in the following season.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM BOTH SIDE?
Arsenal has been facing an injury crisis off late with their injury list comprising the likes of skipper Aubameyang, Tierney, David Luiz, and Lacazette. All these players have been pivotal this season but in a recent interview, gaffer Mikel Arteta revealed that Tierney Aubameyang and Lacazette are in contention for this week’s fixture.
“They are all in contention, all of them – including Aubameyang, Laca, and Kieran. They are all in contention for the game,” -Arteta in his recent interview.
Given the risk involved in this fixture and keeping in mind the following fixtures, Arteta is less likely to start with all the 3 players. Here are the 2 possible starting XI Arteta could devise:
CEDRIC MARI HOLDING XHAKA
SAKA ØDEGAARD PEPE
Gabriel Martinelli can be a surprise feature in the starting XI but given his lack of experience, Arteta is likely to use him as a substitute in this fixture. Despite the horrendous howler against Everton last week, Bernd Leno is most likely to reprise his role as #1. There is a 50-50 chance Arteta would feature Kieran Tierney this week as the preferred left-back. In his recent interview, he said how the team feared the need for surgery for the Scottish fullback’s ligament injury but was not needed. He also mentioned Tierney’s success in this rehab process and how he is “in contention” for the game.
CHAMBERS MARI GABRIEL TIERNY
SAKA/PEPE ØDEGAARD AUBAYEMANG
Villarreal’s attacking duo Gerard Moreno and Paco Alcacer are the 2 main threats for Arsenal. The duo has scored a combined 12 goals this season in the Europa League. Gerard Moreno is more prone to scoring goals considering his league form. The Spaniard has scored 20 goals in LaLiga; only Lionel Messi has scored more (25). As observed in recent matches across all competitions, Unai Emery tends to keep his squad in rotation. Apart from 2-3 players, he selects a different combination of players to give each player game time.
Emery plays Sergio Asenjo as the keeper in LaLiga games and Geromino Rulli as the keeper in Europa. The Spanish manager is unlikely to change this process and is likely to play Rulli as the keeper in this fixture. Also, there is a doubt if Emery would start both Dani Parejo and Francis Coquelin together as they both are just 1 yellow card away from a disciplinary suspension.
Here is the predicted starting line-up:
ALFONSO FOYTH TORRES PEÑA
CHUKWUEZE GOMEZ PAREJO COQUELIN
The Ivorian winger has been essential in Arsenal’s playmaking. He is the player who is most involved in goals the most throughout Arsenal’s European campaign so far (9 G/A). His pace and dribbling skills will be much needed this week against Villarreal.
Should the French striker feature this week; he will be an influential player on the field. Ever since Aubameyang’s illness, Lacazette not only took over the captain’s mantle but also made up for his past poor performances by scoring crucial goals for his club. Although we can not be sure if Lacazette will start or even feature this week, if he does, he will be a key player.
The Norwegian playmaker has been in impressive form ever since his loan move to Arsenal. Arteta has made sure of starting him almost every match. He can be seen having good chemistry with the team as he sets up the play. Crucial and timely passes are one of his specialties which will be useful for the Gunners this week.
The club’s top goalscorer with 28 goals this season in all competitions. He is likely to start against Arsenal given his attacking prowess. He has been an influential player under Emery; starting every match and scoring goals. He has directly been a part of every goal scored by Villarreal in the Europa League so far. He remains a major threat to Arsenal’s defense.
The Spaniard has scored 6 goals so far in the Europa League and is often seen starting with Moreno in the attacking front. Emery ought to start this attacking duo if they want to stand a chance against the London side.
The Nigerian has been part of the Europa squad more than the league squad. He has directly involved himself in 4 goals scoring 1 and assisting 3. His timely passes to the right player will remain a threat to the opposition.
Arsenal faces Villarreal away from home. Given their stats in away games in the Europa League, the Gunners tend to attack more ferociously. Their last game against Slavia Praha is their testament to their away performance this season. The Gunners will look forward to bagging as many away goals as they can to tip the fixture to their favor. But given that Villarreal is yet to lose a match this season in Europa, the odds aren’t tipped against their favor yet. All in all, we are set for an exciting matchup in the Europa semis.
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