Today’s match is the type that footballers grow up dreaming about playing — backs to the wall, pressure on, and the chance to be the hero. Arsenal face Villarreal in the second leg of the Europa League semifinal, needing a win at the Emirates to advance to the final. Trailing 2-1 on aggregate with that all-important away goal, Arsenal are slightly favored by most to take care of business this evening.
The good news for Mikel Arteta’s side is that they’ll struggle to play worse than they did in the first leg. Several key injuries, including not having a traditional center forward, forced Arteta into a new, untested lineup and formation that did not generate enough offense. He should have the services of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from the off; the striker declared himself 90% fit and ready to play “one of the biggest games of [his] Arsenal career.”
Even more important than Aubameyang’s return is the possible return of Kieran Tierney. The left back has been in full training all week and may be available for selection. Arsenal are a different side with him in the lineup; his ability to get forward balances the attack and helps the Gunners woefully inadequate chance creation (Willian leads the club with five assists this season). Tierney playing also pushes Granit Xhaka back into the midfield, which lessens the load on Thomas Partey.
Alexandre Lacazette was also back in full training this week and may be available, although I’d expect him to come off the bench if anything. David Luiz, who picked up a hamstring injury against Newcastle, trained this week but is a doubt. Dani Ceballos is suspended.
Etienne Capoue is suspended for Villarreal, which is a big blow for Unai Emery’s side. Capoue’s presence in the center of the park helps Villarreal play the game at their pace and on their terms, and his absence should tip the midfield balance in Arsenal’s favor. Juan Foyth, who tormented Arsenal down the right, suffered a hamstring tear and will likely miss the rest of the season. Vicente Iborra is also out.
The first goal tonight will be critical — scoring first will ease the nerves for the Gunners, conceding first will ratchet up the pressure. While 1-0 is good enough to put Arsenal through, you’d like to see them net 2 or 3 goals. For what it’s worth, Arsenal have scored fewer goals at home this season than on the road, and Villarreal have won 12 of 13 Europa League matches this season (and they drew the other).
Arsenal have their work cut out for them.
Arsenal - Leno, Bellerin, Holding, Marí, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Ødegaard, Aubameyang, Pépé
Villarreal - Rulli, Pedraza, Pau, Albiol, Gaspar, Trigueros, Coquelin, Parejo, Alcacer, Chukwueze, Gerard
For all your international streaming needs, check LiveSoccerTV.com. Please do not share or discuss links to illegal streams here.
The Short Fuse has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.