Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney are all back in contention as Arsenal take on Villarreal on Thursday.
Arsenal will be facing a tough test ahead when they square off with Villarreal at Estadio de la Cremica on Thursday, in what will serve as the first leg of their semi-final tie in the UEFA Europa League.
The Premier League giants have been dealt with a massive boost heading into this game, with Mikel Arteta confirming the availability of all of his star players including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Kieran Tierney.
It should suggest a considerable amount of changes to the side that faced Everton on the weekend. While Bernd Leno’s place in goal appears to be safe, despite a howler in the last game, Arteta may want to recall Hector Bellerin and Gabriel Magalhaes back into defence, at the expense of Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari, respectively.
Bellerin should occupy his preferred role at right-back, but it will be interesting to see whether Tierney gets rushed back into the starting eleven on the opposite flank, especially with the Gunners lacking any other natural alternative.
Speaking to the press ahead of the game, Arteta sounded rather uncertain of his involvement, “He didn’t need the surgery that we were afraid of at the beginning and then he’s been working like a beast every single day. I don’t know if he’s going to make it tomorrow but he certainly wants to be as close as possible to that football pitch to give himself the best possible chance.”
Therefore, the Arsenal boss may have to persist with Granit Xhaka in the left-back slot, thus allowing both Dani Ceballos and Thomas Partey to retain their places in the double pivot. The midfield duo could be vital for Arsenal due to their experience of playing against Villarreal.
In the attacking department, Arteta further stated that he is wary of taking risks in regards to team selection, as both Lacazette and Aubameyang have just returned to full fitness.
“We do need them, because we know that we have some players that are in contention and they are the ones who can make the difference in a big tie like this. But the word risk, I don’t like to put players on the pitch if they can’t perform and they can’t feel secure that they can perform. If it’s a risk or we’re going to take a gamble, then I don’t think it’s the right thing to do,” said the Spaniard.
It is perhaps fair to expect one of Aubameyang and Lacazette to appear as a substitute, so it won’t be surprising to see Eddie Nketiah spearheading the Arsenal attack once again, with additional support from the creative trifecta of Bukayo Saka, Nicolas Pepe and Martin Odegaard, who remains a favourite to start, having returned to the pitch on the weekend against Fulham.
Arsenal Predicted XI: Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Gabriel, Xhaka; Partey, Ceballos; Saka, Odegaard, Pepe; Nketiah