Mikel Arteta has named his Arsenal starting XI to face Villarreal this evening.
The Gunners are in Europa League semi-final action in Vila-Real this evening, taking on former boss Unai Emery and his Villarreal side in the first of two legs.
This tie is crucial for Arsenal with European qualification now all but out of reach in the Premier League and with Champions League qualification available for the winner of the Europa League.
But a tough tie awaits with Emery, a specialist in this competition, standing in their way, and indeed his Villarreal side who have won 11 of their 12 games in this competition this season, drawing the other.
Ahead of the trip to Castellon, Arteta provided some good news with all of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Kieran Tierney and David Luiz returning to contention after respective injuries.
But in a late blow, Lacazette and Tierney have missed out on the squad, while Aubameyang and Luiz start from the bench this evening.
Arteta has decided to start Nicolas Pepe in the nine role with the Ivorian likely operating as a false nine, while Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka start either side and Gabriel Martinelli is overlooked altogether.
Martin Odegaard starts in the attacking midfield role with Granit Xhaka once again slotting into left-back to cover for Tierney, who remains out.
Here’s how Arsenal fans have been reacting to the team news on Twitter.
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@tKay_Masangomai – “What does Martinelli need to do to start a game? Why are we opting for square pegs in round holes. Baffling.”
@Vusi_Moutunane – “Why would you want to play two players out of position in one game. Huge mistake from Arteta.”
@Donaldinho66 – “Martinelli should have been starting upfront ahead of Pepe IMO. Hope this gamble pays off.”
@JuliusPeters84 – “Clearly Arteta – doesn’t rate Martinelli and he will never have a chance at arsenal unless M8 gets fired.”
@OdinRadnor – “Why not Martinelli and no Balogun what is Arteta thinking, oh yes if it comes off he is great, if it fails will be the players fault, think he needs to take some blame for the results.”
@ZiyadvsZeta – “One day, Martinelli is going to start a big game. One day.”
@MasterAriyo – “Without a striker? Why not play @g_martinelli01.”
Arsenal starting XI vs Villarreal: Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka; Partey, Ceballos; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Pepe
Subs : Ryan, Okonkwo, Bellerin, Gabriel, David Luiz, Cedric, Elneny, Nelson, Willian, Nketiah, Martinelli, Aubameyang