Update (4/28): In his press conference on Wednesday, Mikel Arteta noted that everyone is in contention for Thursday, including Aubameyang, Lacazette, and even Tierney. But it still remains unlikely that they are far enough along to start as he alluded to.
It’s been a wild two weeks, even by Arsenal standards, coming off that great 4-0 away win over Slavia Prague. A stoppage-time goal was needed for a draw against Fulham, the Super League fiasco, an error from Leno and embarrassingly poor VAR management by the FA (can they by next season rise up to the level of effectiveness we see in MLS?), and the rumored bid by Spotify’s Daniel Ek. Hopefully, a return to the Europa League can bring some level of normalcy and form back to the Gunners.
At the time of writing, we don’t know the updated status of Aubameyang, Odegaard, Luiz, and Lacazette, but Arsenal will surely continue to be without Kieran Tierney. Odegaard seems like the most likely to return, but there is a possibility we see Aubameyang and Luiz at least make the bench if they have been able to participate in full training this week ahead of the trip to Spain.
However, as the soccer gods often do, fate has brought together Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal up against the man he replaced, Unai Emery. In the modern era, only three managers at Arsenal have a higher than 50% win percentage — Wenger (57.25%), Emery (55.13%), & Arteta (51.95%). Emery nearly won the Europa League at Arsenal, but that loss, his first in four finals, and a poor start to the next season ended his era in charge and welcomed in Arteta’s.
Villarreal enters the tie on the back of two straight defeats. First, a 2-1 defeat to the hands of 16th-place Alves, followed by a 2-1 loss at home to Barcelona, but playing a man down for the last half hour. They are currently 7th in La Liga just a point out of the last Europa League position, but like Arsenal, are well out of the race for Champions League places (21 points behind). If Unai Emery’s side has any hope of reaching UEFA’s top competition, just like Arsenal, this is the only path that remains.
- Nicolas Pepe
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Folarin Balogun
- Reiss Nelson
- Mohamed Elneny
- Miguel Azeez
- Calum Chambers
- Mat Ryan
- Karl Jakob Hein
- Left Out: N/A
- Out: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (illness), David Luiz (knee), Alexandre Lacazette (Hamstring), & Kieran Tierney (Knee)
- This will come out before Arsenal release their official team news, so we are in the dark a bit on player availability. If either Aubameyang or Luiz have good training sessions I think Arteta brings them on the plane and at a minimum has them on the bench. It’s hard to see either going from ‘hope to return to light training soon’ to ‘in the starting XI on the road in the Europa League semi-final’. However, both should be set for the second leg, unless there are setbacks. If Aubameyang can’t make the trip, and possibly even if he can, I’d have Folarin Balogun on the bench as another attacking option.
- The end of this season, and probably the next two years, will be dictated by how well these young Gunners do with Mikel Arteta. Saka last year and Smith Rowe this season have been the breakthroughs. Add in a potential full transfer for Odegaard this summer, a fit all season Martinelli, and a newly signed Balogun, and Arsenal have an exciting core of attacking talent for Mikel to build around.
- The real question for me is if you give Nketiah, another start up top, or try Martinelli after Eddie failed to do much against Everton. I’d go with Martinelli personally, as his ability to interchange with those three behind him seems more dangerous, but so far we’ve seen that Arteta prefers Nketiah, at least for this season.
- If for some reason Martin Odegaard remains unavailable to start, I’d move Smith Rowe back into the center and start either Pepe or Martinelli on the left.
- Bernd Leno’s mistake aside, the backline had a good day against Everton. They only allowed one shot on target. Until Tierney returns Xhaka is the safest left-back we have, which hopefully means the club has a summer transfer target ready to go. With Tierney’s injuries since he arrived in London, Arsenal needs a 1B option that can start in the Premier League by the time we get to August.
- As I mentioned last time, the Mari-Holding pairing remains Arsenal’s best option. Despite Leno’s gaffe, they have a 7-1 scoreline over their last three starts together and they are not to blame for that deflection (Richarlison looked ridiculous dancing after that). They should 100% start in Spain, but who is on their right?
- Bellerin started against Fulham and was lackluster. Chambers returned to the starting role for Everton and didn’t make much of an impact. So who starts in Arsenal’s biggest match so far this year? It has to be Chambers. I am a huge fan of Bellerin, on and off the pitch, but something just isn’t right at the moment and Calum had a great match in Arsenal’s last Europa League road game.
How to watch
Thursday (4/29) at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT on Paramount+.
Arsenal - 1
Villarreal - 1
An important away goal and still well in the tie heading back into London. Hopefully, Arsenal is healthier and can see off Emery in his return to the Emirates.