The seven Arsenal untouchables Mikel Arteta is set to start in second leg against Villarreal


Mikel Arteta knows that Thursday’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal is Arsenal’s most important game of the season so far.

Victory over Unai Emery’s side in north London would almost certainly set up an all-English final with Manchester United, giving the Gunners a chance to secure direct qualification for next season’s Champions League and winning a European trophy in the process.

The first leg didn’t go to plan for Arsenal as the La Liga side dominated early on and took the lead within five minutes. Raul Albiol put the Spaniards 2-0 up before half-time to send a firm message that this was never going to be an easy ride.

Fortunately for Arsenal, Bukayo Saka won a second half penalty which was put away by Nicolas Pepe, to give Arteta’s men a genuine hope of sealing their place in the Gdansk final later this month.

The strongest possible line-up will be fielded for the visit of Emery’s side to Emirates Stadium, but which players are all but guaranteed their place in the starting XI?


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football.london takes a look at the ‘untouchables’ who have consistently started under Arteta in the biggest matches this season.

Despite reports linking the German shot stopper with a move away from the club this summer, Leno has been the undisputed no.1 for a couple of seasons now.

The 29-year-old has made several high-profile errors throughout the campaign, with Mat Ryan starting in the 2-0 win over Newcastle at the weekend.

However, for Arsenal’s biggest game of the season it would be a massive shock to see anyone except Leno between the sticks on Thursday.

The Ghanaian midfielder has struggled with injuries in his first season at Arsenal, but has still shown glimpses of the glittering qualities he was renowned for in Spain.

Arteta’s midfield options are further limited with Dani Ceballos suspended for the second leg, so it will come as no surprise to see Partey start alongside Granit Xhaka in midfield against Villarreal.

After returning from injury it remains touch and go whether we’ll see Tierney start in the semi-final.

However, it’s expected that the Scot will manage to train ahead of the game which will at least put him in contention for the game.



Kieran Tierney participated in Wednesday's training session at London Colney. (Image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images).
Kieran Tierney participated in Wednesday’s training session at London Colney. (Image: Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images).

Arsenal are crying out for Tierney’s return after being forced to move Xhaka from his natural central midfield position.

The Switzerland international is Arteta’s most trusted player, featuring in a multitude of positions and playing almost every game this season.

“It’s a joy to work with him because if you ask him to play as a centre forward, his first reaction is ‘Yeah, yeah, I can do it and I will do my best’,” said Arsenal boss.

He is probably due a rest soon but there’s no doubt that he’ll be involved from the start against Villarreal, although it remains to be seen whether he starts at left-back or in central midfield.



Granit Xhaka has performed consistently at left-back for Arsenal over the past few games.

Saka is Arsenal’s starboy.

Goals, assists and a constant supply of energy, the England international offers more to the team in an attacking sense than almost every other player.

He is desperate to win the Europa League too, as he mentioned ahead of the first league in Spain.

“It would mean everything, to me, to the fans, to our club and of course it would mean a return back to the Champions League next season.

“It’s every kid’s dream to play in the Champions League & play in the biggest matches of your career.”

Pepe has been this season’s star of the Europa League.

The Ivorian winger has ten goals in the competition this season, is the second highest top goalscorer and only Europa League player to reach double figures for combined goals and assists.

Those are reason enough for him to be one of the first names on the team sheet on Thursday.

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The Arsenal captain has recovered from malaria and returned to goalscoring action in the win over Newcastle.

Despite his critics, Aubameyang has scored 10 goals in 13 games that he’s started in since Christmas and always provides a threat upfront.

With Alexandre Lacazette on the sidelines with a hamstring and doubtful for the game, Aubameyang is almost certainly going to start this one.





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