Villarreal v Arsenal predictions: Tight first leg is anticipated
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta may opt for cautious approach at El Madrigal
Free football tips, best bets and analysis for the Villarreal v Arsenal Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.
Where to watch
BT Sport 3, 8pm Thursday
1pt 12-5 bet365, Betfred
Under 2.5 goals
2pts 4-5 general
Vicente Iborra (knee) is a long-term absentee.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (malaria), Alexandre Lacazette (hamstring), David Luiz and Kieran Tierney (both knee) are pushing to rejoin the squad and will be assessed. Martin Odegaard (ankle) should be ready to start.
Arsenal have looked more at ease in the Europa League than the Premier League this season and they can edge a step closer to the final by holding Villarreal to a draw at El Madrigal.
There will be no fans allowed inside Villarreal's tight stadium but both teams are aware of the huge importance of the game.
Neither team is in realistic contention to secure Champions League qualification via a lofty league finish, so everything depends on reaching and winning next month's Europa League final in Gdansk.
There is added spice to the occasion with Arsenal up against their former manager, Unai Emery, who has a fantastic record in the competition.
Emery famously led Sevilla to Europa League glory in three successive seasons in 2014-16, but came up short with the Gunners, who were hammered 4-1 by Chelsea in the 2019 final.
The 49-year-old has won each of the four Europa League semi-finals he has contested but his club have become accustomed to missing out on big European finals.
Villarreal have experienced four successive defeats in European semi-finals, including a 1-0 aggregate reverse to Arsenal in the 2005-06 Champions League.
The Yellow Submarine are hopeful that Emery is the right man to lead them to glory and they have hardly put a foot wrong in this season's competition.
They dominated modest opposition in Group I, taking 16 points, and rose to bigger challenges in the knockout rounds, overcoming RB Salzburg 4-1 on aggregate, Dynamo Kiev (4-0) and Dinamo Zagreb (3-1).
Villarreal's progress to the 2010-11 and 2015-16 Europa League semi-finals were turbo-charged by 100 per cent home records but the empty stadiums this season have changed the dynamic by making it easier for away teams to pick up positive results.
Villarreal and Arsenal have collected more points away than at home in their domestic leagues so there is absolutely no reason for Emery's side to take excessive risks in search of a first-leg advantage.
The Gunners have the added incentive of trying to score an away goal, but Mikel Arteta's plans could be hampered by a lack of firepower.
He was without Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for last Friday's 1-0 loss at home to Everton and it showed with Arsenal struggling to create clear-cut opportunities.
Arteta was boosted by the return from injury of Martin Odegaard, who came on for the final 20 minutes, and the talented Norwegian may be considered for a start.
However, Arsenal's squad is likely to be in a healthier state for the return match in London and that may come into Arteta's tactical thinking.
The Londoners may lack the firepower to do the heavy lifting in the first leg – as they did by winning 3-1 at Olympiakos in the round of 16 – and Arteta may focus more a containment strategy as he seeks to keep a lid on a Villarreal side who have averaged 2.33 goals per Europa League game.
A tense contest could boil down to a cagey, low-scoring affair with neither team gaining the upper hand before next Thursday's decisive battle at the Emirates.
Arsenal are unbeaten in their last seven away games.
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