Villarreal host Arsenal at Estadio de la Cerámica on Thursday night in the Europa League semi-final first leg. This match sees Unai Emery face the club which sacked him and the manager who replaced him in Mikel Arteta. Emery has won three Europa League titles in his career whilst Arteta is looking for a second trophy since taking over. He will also know that this is his side’s only chance of playing Champions League football next season, with the tournament winners qualifying for Europe’s top club competition.
Emery’s side have had an average La Liga campaign with 13 draws and eight defeats putting them in seventh place, a massive 21 points off Sevilla in the fourth Champions League spot. Having put together a run of six successive wins from mid-March onwards, with 13 goals scored and just two conceded, The Yellow Submarine come into this match after a slump.
A 2-1 home La Liga defeat to Osasuna was followed by a 2-1 Europa League quarter-final win against Dinamo Zagreb (for a 3-1 aggregate victory). Villarreal then thrashed Levante 5-1 away with Samuel Chukwueze getting a brace. Their last two matches saw defeat – 2-1 at Deportivo Alaves and 2-1 at home to Barcelona having played the final 25 minutes with ten men.
Villareal Team News
Villarreal have practically a clean bill of health for this match with just long-term knee injury victim Vicente Iborra missing in midfield. Emery has used a 4-4-2 formation of sorts and has several vastly experience players and many with Premier League experience.
Pau Torres and Raul Albiol form a solid centre back pairing with on-loan Tottenham man Juan Foyth at right back and former Liverpool left back Alberto Moreno completing the backline. Etienne Capoue, formerly of Tottenham and Watford anchors midfield. Former Gunners man Francis Coquelin is also likely to feature but may need to content himself with a place on the bench.
Emery is a tactical coach who will develop a specific plan for Arsenal. He knows how to navigate these knockout ties and will know the value of a clean sheet at home and not allowing Arsenal an away goal.
Villarreal can put full attention on this match as they look to have almost wrapped up seventh spot in La Liga.
Arsenal are in poor form. Having had a run of four wins in five which included a 3-1 win at Leicester, a 3-1 win in Greece at Olympiakos and a 2-1 home win against Tottenham, Arteta’s team have dipped badly.
Their last eight matches in all competitions have seen just two wins as they won 3-0 at bottom-placed Sheffield United and 4-0 at Slavia Prague. That run seen a 1-0 home defeat to Olympiakos, 3-0 home loss to Liverpool and a 1-0 home defeat to Everton in their last match after a Bernd Leno own goal.
Arsenal Team News
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are also both available in attack after Malaria and a hamstring injury respectively but only one is expected to start at best as neither is fully match fit. David Luiz is still missing at centre back but Martin Odegaard is now fully fit and should start as the number ten.
This is a big knockout tie so Arsenal are likely to be cagey and conservative, but look for an away goal. Their home form is very poor so they can’t count on the second leg to turn around a heavy deficit.
This match holds complete focus and motivation with silverware and Champions League qualification on the line and nothing to play for in the Premier League
Villarreal have lost 3 of their last 5 matches
Villarreal have gone 5 matches without a clean sheet
Villarreal have won their last 6 home Europa League matches
Arsenal have won 2 of their last 8 matches
Arsenal have kept 1 clean sheet in their last 12 PL matches
Arsenal are unbeaten in 12 Europa League away games (W9 D3)
This should be an entertaining match as Emery faces Arteta. Both sides are struggling to stop the opposition scoring so there should be goal. A draw is probably the most likely outcome but don’t rule out Villarreal winning narrowly.