Tierney back as Martinelli misses out – The Arsenal team Mikel Arteta should pick vs Villarreal


Arsenal go into what is their most important game of the season when they take on Villarreal in the Europa League semi final first leg on Thursday night.

With European qualification via the Premier League now looking near on impossible, the Gunners go into the game knowing that winning this competition is probably their best bet of playing any form of continental football.

Standing in their way though is former manager Unai Emery who is a specialist in the Europa League having won the trophy three times with Sevilla.

Speaking ahead of the match Mikel Arteta admitted that despite being favourites for the win, his side could not afford to take anything for granted.


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“In terms of the club in the last 10 or 15 years they’ve had spectacular progression with various different coaches and guises, but they always have a clear idea of how they want to play,” he said of the Yellow Submarine.

“Unai’s brought them a lot of experience in this competition, they have a very clear identity in terms of their playing style.

“Obviously it’s a two legged affair. There’s always a bit of uncertainty in the first leg, who’s going to have more dominance, who’s going to take more risks, but we’ll see that tomorrow.”

So who should he pick for such an important occasion?

Well to try and help him with the decision football.london ‘s Arsenal writers Kaya Kaynak and Chris Wheatley have picked their starting 11s for Thursday night’s match.

Kaya Kaynak – Arsenal writer

Despite his hideous error last Friday I would still assume that Bernd Leno will be starting what is the most important game of Arsenal’s season.

In front of him it would be an unchanged back four save for one crucial difference. If Kieran Tierney is even slightly fit for me he has to play as there is simply no equivalent to him in the Gunners squad right now.

Having his sensational attacking presence down the left again will mean Granit Xhaka is able to move into central midfield where he is far more effective alongside Thomas Partey.

Tierney’s inclusion again influences the attacking three I’ve gone for as with his overlapping runs, having Emile Smith Rowe drift centrally from the left with Martin Odegaard in the middle and Bukayo Saka cutting in off the right turns Arsenal into far more of a threat offensively.

Up top it’s another fitness gamble for me but if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is fit he has to start. Nketiah hasn’t been good enough when given chances while it’s too much of an ask to throw Flo Balogun in for his first start in a European semi-final.

It’s harsh on Martinelli and Pepe who both miss out after a good few weeks, but this a 180 minute game, and their influence across the tie could yet prove key.

Kaynak’s Arsenal XI: Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; AubameyangC

Chris Wheatley – chief Arsenal correspondent

Arsenal’s most important game of the season requires players in their best form, and after his error at the weekend there will be questions over whether Bernd Leno should start in Spain.

Mat Ryan has looked confident and solid between the sticks when he’s been involved and I wouldn’t hesitate to start him in goal for this game.

Calum Chambers has been deployed in defence recently but I would pick Cedric Soares for this match, with his ability to break into the final third and defend in equal measure an important asset against a strong counter attacking Villarreal side.

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At left-back Kieran Tierney must start, while Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka will continue in the centre of midfield.

Bukayo Saka will almost certainly feature against the manager who gave him his first opportunity in the senior squad at Arsenal, with Martin Odegaard and Emile Smith Rowe also likely to start.

The biggest selection dilemma Arteta has on his hands is whether to start Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang or Alexandre Lacazette upfront, and I think Arteta will go with the returning Gabon striker for what is such a pivotal game.

Wheatley’s Arsenal XI: Ryan; Cedric, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Partey, Xhaka; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Aubameyang





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