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