As Arsenal try to forget how things are going domestically, let’s take a look at our predicted lineup to face Villarreal in the Europa League on Thursday.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates Stadium on December 13, 2020 in London, England. A limited number of spectators (2000) are welcomed back to stadiums to watch elite football across England. This was following easing of restrictions on spectators in tiers one and two areas only. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images )
LONDON, ENGLAND: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at Emirates Stadium on December 13, 2020. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

To say Arsenal have put all their eggs in one basket is putting it mildly. It’s more like they’ve decided to play a game of catch with the brimming egg basket over a concrete surface wearing blindfolds.

There is nothing left of this season for Mikel Arteta if and when his side exit the Europa League, and there is a good chance that elimination will also kill next season in the process. The next two semi-final games and a potential final are his only hope.

With a few key players still out with injury, Arteta won’t be able to name his strongest side on Thursday, but he’ll have to try and get as close as possible. Here’s our predicted Arsenal lineup vs Villarreal.

Goalkeeper

Bernd Leno of Arsenal scores an own goal to put Everton 1-0 up during a Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates Stadium in London - 23rd April 2021. Copyright: Holly Allison / TPI / Shutterstock
Bernd Leno of Arsenal scores an own goal to put Everton 1-0 up during a Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at the Emirates Stadium in London – 23rd April 2021. Copyright: Holly Allison / TPI / Shutterstock

For the first time in a while, I think you could make a convincing argument to drop Bernd Leno for Mat Ryan. And no, resting him for one game against Fulham doesn’t count.

But the timing of a potential change is awful, right before a European semi-final. This isn’t the time to gamble. Arteta was keen to insist after the game that Leno remains the “number one keeper”, and he’ll probably keep his place.

Defence

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21: Granit Xhaka of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on February 21, 2021 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND: Granit Xhaka of Arsenal reacts during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on February 21, 2021. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Arteta will probably start the same defence against Villarreal as against Everton. In the cases of Calum Chambers and Pablo Mari, that’s because they’ve done little wrong to deserve being swapped out.

In the cases of Granit Xhaka and Rob Holding, it’s because there are no real alternatives. You could possibly move Bukayo Saka to left-back, but like the Leno decision, I don’t think this is the game to try something new.

Arsenal lose too much in the build-up with Cedric Soares over Xhaka at left-back, so I’m afraid I don’t see that as a viable option either. Kieran Tierney is obviously still out.

David Luiz was pictured around training before the Everton game, but this match will probably come too soon for him.

Midfield

Martin Odegaard celebrates scoring Arsenal’s first goal of the game during the Premier League match at Emirates Stadium, London. Picture date: Sunday, March 14, 2021. Copyright: Nick Potts

Thomas Partey and Dani Ceballos will likely keep their places with Xhaka at left-back. Arsenal need to score goals in this first (away) leg, and unless Mohamed Elneny has another screamer in store for us he’s not the best option to achieve that.

Martin Odegaard is back fit, and I’m predicting him to start centrally. Emile Smith Rowe hasn’t done anything wrong, but I’m expecting Arteta to move him out to the left to get both players in the team.

Forwards

Arsenal's Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Europa League 32 Second Leg football match between Arsenal and Benfica at the Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP
Arsenal’s Gabonese striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (L) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the UEFA Europa League 32 Second Leg football match between Arsenal and Benfica at the Karaiskaki Stadium in Athens, on February 25, 2021. (Photo by ARIS MESSINIS / AFP

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang seems to be closing in on a comeback after his struggles with malaria, and Arsenal need him back in Alexandre Lacazette’s absence.

As mentioned, I’m expecting Smith Rowe on the left, replacing Nicolas Pepe. I don’t think Pepe played particularly badly against Everton, but with Aubameyang back in the team, Smith Rowe is probably a better fit on that side.

It’s a bit of a toss-up between Pepe and Saka on the right. Saka is showing the kind of inconsistency you expect from a 19-year-old lately, with some excellent performances (like Slavia Prague away) and some forgettable ones (like Everton home).

I’m opting for Saka, but it really could go either way if it’s a straight decision between them.

Predicted Starting Lineup vs Villarreal

Arsenal predicted lineup to face Villarreal created with Chosen11.com
Arsenal predicted lineup to face Villarreal created with Chosen11.com