It was a disastrous start in leg one, which by the end was a manageable result. Pepe’s converted PK gives Arsenal a lifeline back into the tie, as just a 1-0 win at home would see the Gunners through to the Europa League Final. The weekend Premier League result was nearly perfect (outside of David Luiz exiting injured) - a great goal for Aubameyang, a clean sheet, and players making their case to start on Thursday (Elneny).
Arteta ruled out any involvement by Kieran Tierney and Alex Lacazette in Thursday’s match, and for now, we have to expect David Luiz to also be unavailable. However, if we make the Europa League final all three could contribute.
Following their home leg victory, Villarreal had a fairly easy 1-0 win over Getafe. They controlled 67% of the possession and limited the opponents to just three shots on target to remain in the final Europa League spot in La Liga. With the advantage, and knowing that just a single away goal could likely seal the tie, how will Arteta set up Arsenal in the season's most important match?
- Eddie Nketiah
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Folarin Balogun
- Reiss Nelson
- Pablo Mari
- Hector Bellerin
- Miguel Azeez
- Mat Ryan
- Arthur Okonkwo
- Left Out: N/A
- Out: Dani Ceballos (red card), David Luiz (knee/hamstring), Alexandre Lacazette (Hamstring), & Kieran Tierney (Knee)
- It’s easy to imagine Emery instructing Villarreal to sit back further in this leg, so Arsenal will need combination play, interchanging movement, strikes from distance, and perhaps a converted set-piece to break the tie open.
- Following his start against Newcastle, Aubameyang looks fit to start. Around him, Arteta simply must trust his most productive players. That means our top three (active) goal scorers - Auba, Pepe, and Saka (Lacazette has 17) and the team’s best assist man Emile Smith Rowe. That offers Arsenal plenty of attacking options and should keep the Villarreal defense honest both in the wide areas and over the top.
- If Arsenal are still searching for the goal in the second half I’d consider bringing in Martinelli or perhaps shift out Elneny for Odegaard and push the midfield further forward.
- Last week I would have suggested Xhaka back into his central partnership with Thomas Partey and utilize Cedric’s speed and more natural defensive skills at left-back. After the weekend, however, I can see Arteta giving Elneny the start in midfield to hopefully limit Villarreal from having the ability to build up play centrally. That leaves us with Xhaka at left-back once more. With the tie, and season, on the line, I’m hoping Arteta is a bit more aggressive than he has typically been lately, but I can understand the hesitancy in not wanting to give up an early away goal.
- In the back, I’d give Gabriel a start alongside Rob Holding after a solid performance at the weekend. While I’ve already spoken about the left-back position, it still remains odd that neither Hector Bellerin nor Cedric have been able to get in during this run of crucial European matches, their last coming in the 1-1 draw against Slavia Prague. However, if Emery does sit back more I’d like to see at least Cedric’s addition on the left flank, while it’s hard to argue that Chambers can’t contribute offensively or defensively what Bellerin has as of late.
- With Lacazette, Tierney, Luiz, and Ceballos presumed unavailable for Thursday, that opens up a bench spot for Folarin Balogun. How fitting would it be for the newly signed striker to provide the deciding goal?
How to watch
Thursday (5/6) at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT on Paramount+.
Arsenal - 2
Villarreal - 0
Villarreal sits back more this leg hoping for a nil-nil draw or to capitalize on an Arsenal mistake. It takes the Gunners a while to break down Emery’s defense, but a goal midway through the match puts Arsenal in the advantage, and as Villarreal seeks an equalizer, Mikel Arteta’s side seals the match and the tie with a second. Arsenal 3-2 on aggregate.