Arsenal v Villarreal
Thursday 06 May, 20:00
Live on BT Sport
Last-chance saloon for Arteta’s underachievers
The hands went to the head, and that familiar expression of dismay and disbelief raced across the features of Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta. That description fits several moments from last week’s first leg in Spain. The avoidable dismissal of midfielder Dani Ceballos, the careless set-piece defending for the second Villarreal goal, and a fair few other incidents besides.
Arteta has done some valuable work with the Gunners, and he did win the FA Cup last season, but the progress is slow and frustrating. Bad errors are still being made, and Arsenal’s game management is sometimes naïve beyond belief. Arteta has doubtless learned so much from working with Pep Guardiola so closely, and he’s clearly a passionate and determined individual, but what can you do if some of the players aren’t listening?
All is certainly not lost ahead of this second leg. A 1-0 win would do the trick, and the weekend’s 2-0 victory at Newcastle was a useful tune-up. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored his first goal since recovering from malaria, and perhaps more importantly, he got 78 minutes under his belt. David Luiz, Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette are all struggling to be fit, while Nicolas Pepe, Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey and Bernd Leno may all return to the team.
Villarreal seething about penalty injustice
Having conceded an incredibly soft penalty, Villarreal were left to reflect upon a 2-1 first-leg win that left a slightly sour taste in the mouth. The Spanish side outplayed Arsenal and had a 2-0 lead against ten men, but Bukayo Saka tumbled, and Nicolas Pepe drove in the spot-kick. It could still prove to be a pivotal moment in the tie. Villarreal coach Unai Emery couldn’t believe the penalty was not only given, but also that the VAR team didn’t step in to reverse the decision.
Villarreal have now won their last nine games in the Europa League, including all of their knockout matches this term. They have won at Salzburg, Dynamo Kyiv and Dinamo Zagreb, so they will have no fear of visiting North London. Emery still knows his old club inside-out, and his players competed superbly against them last week. Samuel Chukwueze was a constant threat, Gerard Moreno got into good positions in the box (he was denied by a world-class save from Bernd Leno), and the rest of the team looked solid.
Former Spurs midfielder Etienne Capoue is suspended after he was sent off last week, while on-loan Tottenham defender Juan Foyth is an injury doubt. Ex-Arsenal midfielder Francis Coquelin could come back into the starting XI, having been used as a sub last week.
Can you trust Arsenal at odds-on?
Arsenal are a frustrating team to tip, because they are so inconsistent. Last season they tumbled out of the Europa League at home against Olympiakos, and that was after winning the first leg in Greece. They haven’t won any of their last five home games, and they haven’t delivered many convincing displays at the Emirates.
In terms of individual quality, Arsenal have the advantage over the Spanish opponents, but I don’t believe they are a better team. Emery is excellent tactically, and his passion for this competition has been transmitted to his players. With no fans at the Emirates, there is nothing to upset or intimidate the visitors.
You could lay Arsenal at 1.910/11, but instead I’m going to back Villarreal To Qualify at 1.814/5. That gives us the away win, the draw and the potential of a winner even if the tie goes to extra time. If Arsenal win 3-2 or 4-3, we still get a winner.
Defences to be breached
It was a lively game last week, and I can see Villarreal scoring, as they have done in every UEL games they have played this season. Both teams to score is trading at a rather skinny 1.674/6, while Over 2.5 Goals is available at 1.794/5.
Strikers can catch the eye
Arsenal’s hopes may well rest on Aubameyang here. He has shown he is a big-game player time and time again, and Arteta angered many Arsenal fans by not starting with a recognised striker last week.
Aubameyang is 5/4 to score at any time, while Nicolas Pepe has reserved his best football for this tournament (he has scored six UEL goals), and is available at 15/8.
Gerard Moreno has been outstanding for Villarreal all season, with 20 La Liga strikes and six goals in the UEL. He can be backed to score at 15/8.