Madrid, Spain | XINHUA | Villarreal coach Unai Emery comes face to face with his recent past when the Spanish side take on Arsenal in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal on Thursday night.
Emery is perhaps the biggest specialist in the Europa League after winning the trophy three times with Sevilla in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and taking Arsenal to the 2019 final, where they lost to Chelsea.
After a series of bad results, Emery was sacked by the London club in November 2019, and was replaced by Mikel Arteta. Emery then took over at Villarreal last summer.
Villarreal have enjoyed a comfortable ride to the semifinals, beating Dynamo Kiev in the last 16 and Dinamo Zagreb in the quarterfinals, although their European progress has affected their domestic form, with a surprise defeat away to Alaves a fortnight ago followed by a 2-1 loss at home to FC Barcelona last Sunday.
Villareal pushed Barca until the final whistle with just 10 men after Manu Trigueros’ sending off for a wild tackle in the second half.
Emery will base his side on the effectiveness of striker Gerard Moreno and the pace of Samuel Chukwueze, while in midfield, Dani Parejo, Trigueros and Etienne Capoue provide a balance between creativity and positional awareness in front of Spain international Pau Torres and Raul Albiol.
Arsenal travel with their hopes of qualifying for Europe through the Premier League all but over after a disappointing domestic season, while revelations of the club’s involvement in the failed Super League project has further strained the already poor relations between owners and fans.
Speaking to the press, Arteta highlighted Emery’s experience, adding that Villarreal “are very clear about their ideas with the ball, without the ball and from set pieces. They have a very good connection between all of their players and compete in every moment of every game,” he said.
Arteta will be without key strikers Alexandre Lacazette and and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang which will rob his side of much-needed firepower, and much will depend on the displays of youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe, along with Nicolas Pepe.