The pressure is on Mikel Arteta to overturn Arsenal’s 2-1 deficit against Villarreal and book a place in the Europa League final – where they would more than likely meet old rivals Manchester United.
The Gunners found themselves two goals down inside half an hour in Spain last week, but the biggest concern for those of an Arsenal persuasion was that until they were awarded a spot-kick 17 minutes from time, they never really looked like scoring that crucial away goal.
Bukayo Saka was fortunate to be awarded the penalty but once referee Artur Dias pointed to the spot, Nicolas Pepe made no mistake with the finish – handing Arsenal a lifeline going into the second leg.
Given the club’s disappointing league position, Arteta has faced criticism from sections of the Gunners faithful and elimination on Thursday would be the final nail in his coffin from those corners. Here is 90min‘s preview of this crucial semi-final second leg.
What time is kick-off? Thursday 6 May 2021 – 20:00 (BST)
Where is the game being played? Emirates Stadium, London
How to watch on TV? BT SportBT Sport (UK)
Referee: Slavko Vincic
VAR: Bastian Dankert
Arsenal will be without the suspended Dani Ceballos after he was sent off in the first-leg. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang got 78 minutes under his belt as well as a goal at the weekend and should start on Thursday. David Luiz has been ruled out after suffering a muscular injury at St James’ Park on Sunday. Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette are both pushing for a return to the squad but this game may come around too soon for the pair.
Unai Emery’s side will be without Etienne Capoue who was also sent off in the first leg, and so former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin is likely to come into the starting eleven to replace him. Spurs loanee Juan Foyth limped off injured 20 minutes from time last week and is unlikely to feature in the second leg.
Arsenal: Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka; Partey, Elneny; Saka, Odegaard, Pepe; Aubameyang
Villarreal: Rulli; Martinez, Albiol, Torres, Pedraza; Chukwueze, Coquelin, Parejo, Trigueros; Moreno, Alcacer
Surely the Gunners can’t possibly play as badly as they did at La Ceramica last week. The Premier League outfit can count themselves extremely fortunate to have scored an away goal but having done so, they stand a great chance of progressing.
Emery’s decision to substitute Paco Alcacer and replace him with Francis Coquelin at half-time in the first leg was typical of him. It handed Arsenal the upper hand and allowed them to wrestle their way back into a tie that, in truth, should have been done and dusted.
With Aubameyang back in the side, Arsenal have a potent goal threat – something they were clearly missing last time out and as such, they are more likely to find the back of the net. But Arteta’s men must be patient because if they are to overcommit and concede an away goal, it could be a long night at the Emirates.
Prediction: Arsenal 2-0 Villarreal