A place in the finals of the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League will be at stake when Arsenal play hosts to Villarreal on Thursday night at the Emirates Stadium.
As we enter the final stages of the 2020/21 season in Europe, only four teams remain in the UEFA Europa Leaguem with their fates set to be decided on Thursday night as the second leg ties of the semi-finals will be played out. The first of the two ties will see Manchester United square off against AS Roma at Stadio Olimpico while the second one will take place at the Emirates Stadium, with Arsenal hosting La Liga side Villarreal.
The first leg of the semi-final was an eventful affair as Villarreal ended up 2-1 winners over Arsenal, with both teams seeing players get sent off over the course of the encounter at El Madrigal. And even though the scoreline gives the Yellow Submarine an advantage, the away goal means Mikel Arteta & co. are more than in with a chance, with a 1-0 win being enough for them to go through.
Following that defeat in Spain, which had made it three games without a victory for Arsenal, they did bounce back to winning ways this past weekend, beating Newcastle United 2-0 at St. James’ Park. Villarreal also head into the midweek European clash on the back of a win, having defeated Getafe 1-0 in La Liga.
It will be a special occasion for Villarreal manager Unai Emery as he returns to the Emirates for the first time since he was sacked by Arsenal in 2019. And as he gears up to take on his successor and fellow Spaniard Mikel Arteta, The Hard Tackle takes a closer look at both teams.
Team News & Tactics
🎙 A key topic from today's press conference? Who is going to line up at left back for tomorrow night's #UEL semi-final second leg
🗞 Here's how the boss answered…
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 5, 2021
Arsenal will have to make do without the services of midfielder Dani Ceballos, who was sent off in the first leg in Spain. In addition, David Luiz is likely to miss out after picking up an injury at the weekend against Newcastle United. Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette are in contention to feature, having returned to training over the week.
Mikel Arteta rested a bunch of his regular starters for the Newcastle clash and is set to recall them when Villarreal come visiting. Starting from goal, Bernd Leno ought to replace January signing Mat Ryan, with the rest of the team lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation in front of him.
Calum Chambers has done well at right-back in recent weeks and as such is ahead of Hector Bellerin and Cedric Soares in the pecking order. He ought to start on Thursday while the fit-again Tierney should get the nod at left-back for this crucial match-up. The centre-back duo of Rob Holding and Pablo Mari should also be reinstated by Arteta.
Thomas Partey, who did not start against Newcastle, ought to line up in the centre of the park, trying to disrupt Villarreal’s rhythm. He will have support from Granit Xhaka, who could move into his natural midfield role now that Tierney is back fit and available. With Martin Odegaard having failed to impress last time out, Emile Smith Rowe becomes the obvious pick in the No. 10 role.
Bukayo Saka, who has been Arsenal’s best creative threat this season, ought to line up on the right wing, while Nicolas Pepe, who scored the goal in the first leg for the Gunners should return on the left, replacing Gabriel Martinelli, despite the Brazilian’s impressive display at the weekend. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ought to spearhead the attack for the hosts.
Probable Lineup (4-2-3-1): Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe; Aubameyang
Villarreal, meanwhile, will also have a player suspended, with Etienne Capoue missing out after seeing red in the first leg. Unai Emery will also be without midfielder Vicente Iborra while Tottenham loanee Juan Foyth is also an injury doubt for the big game. The former Arsenal boss will set his team up in a 4-4-2 formation in front of goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli on Thursday night.
With Foyth set to miss out, Mario Gaspar ought to start at right-back while Alfonso Pedraza, a transfer target for Arsenal’s local rivals Chelsea, should feature as the left-back from where he will look to provide a constant attacking outlet. Raul Albiol and Pau Torres should be the two centre-halves tasked with keeping Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang quiet.
🎙 @UnaiEmery_ 🎙
— Villarreal CF (@VillarrealCF) May 5, 2021
Moving into the midfield unit, the onus will be on Dani Parejo to provide the forward thrust and creativity while his partner, ex-Arsenal man Francis Coquelin, will hold down the fort and try to cut out the influence of Emile Smith Rowe or Martin Odegaard, depending on who starts.
Samu Chukwueze will be a major threat from the wide areas with his pace. He ought to line up on the right flank while Manu Trigueros gets the nod on the left, although he is likely to drift in centrally more often than not to add more bodies in the middle of the pitch, leaving the space for Pedraza to attack.
Gerard Moreno is a certain starter at the top for the Yellow Submarine. He could be partnered by Carlos Bacca on the night ahead of Paco Alcacer, who started in the weekend win over Getafe.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Rulli; Gaspar, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Chukwueze, Parejo, Coquelin, Trigueros; Bacca, Moreno
- Arsenal are without a win in their last two home games in European competition (D1 L1), after winning 11 out of 13 before that, with the Gunners hoping to avoid going three on home soil without victory in Europe for the first time since September 2003 (6 games).
- Villarreal have progressed from 15 of their 16 two-legged ties in major European competition when winning the first leg – the only exception was in the 2015-16 UEFA Europa League semi-final, when they went out to Liverpool despite winning the first leg.
- Arsenal have lost just one of their 11 knockout clashes with Spanish opponents on home soil (W7 D3), with that sole defeat coming in February 2016 against Barcelona in the Champions League Last 16 (0-2).
- Villarreal are unbeaten in 13 games in European competition (W12 D1), winning each of their last nine and last suffering defeat in April 2019 (0-2 v Valencia in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final 2nd leg).
- Arsenal have progressed from each of their last two European knockout ties where they lost the first leg (vs BATE Borisov and Rennes in the UEFA Europa League in 2019), after progressing on just two of the previous 17 such occasions.
Player to Watch
💬 "This season it's the most important game and we know we have to win this game. It is a big opportunity to get to the final, we play at home and this is maybe the biggest game of my Arsenal career."
💬 "We want to give something back. I want to lead tomorrow."
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) May 5, 2021
Nicolas Pepe has been Arsenal’s saviour time and again in Europe this season and will once again have a key role to play, as will Bukayo Saka. But the onus will be on the Gunners’ skipper, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to lead the team by example and get them over the line on Thursday night.
Having spent time out on the sidelines due to malaria, the striker returned to action at the weekend and was back among the goals, finding the back of the net with a good finish. It has not been the most memorable of seasons for Aubameyang up until now, but another goalscoring display here could set him up for a strong end to the campaign while providing his side a chance to win a trophy as well. A big game for the captain.
Arsenal 1-1 Villarreal
The first leg scoreline means Arsenal are the ones who will have to do the running on Thursday night which could end up playing into the hands of Villarreal. The La Liga outfit have not lost even once in the competition this term and in Unai Emery, they have a manager who knows how to navigate these fixtures, given that the Spaniard has won the Europa League thrice in his career.
It is likely to be a closer affair than the one at El Madrigal, but Villarreal have what it takes to frustrate Arsenal while the hosts pushing forward in search of a goal should also mean Emery’s side will have opportunities to score on the break. The Hard Tackle, thus, predicts this one to end in a 1-1 draw, with the visitors set to go through on aggregate.