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Villarreal vs Arsenal: 5 players to watch out for | UEFA Europa League 2020-21

Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Arsenal v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League
Vishal Subramanian
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Arsenal travel to the Estadio de la Cerámica to take on Villarreal in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League semifinals. The game promises to be an exciting contest, as Mikel Arteta takes on his Arsenal predecessor Unai Emery, who has put together an exciting team at the helm of the La Liga side.

Emery is no stranger to the Europa League, having won the competition three times in a row during his stint as Sevilla manager. However, Arsenal will be eager to make their presence felt at the business end of the season, as they aim to move past an underwhelming league campaign by getting their hands on the continental honor.

Both sides are pretty much out of the reckoning to secure a UEFA Champions League spot as far as the league tables are concerned. While Arsenal are currently 10th in the Premier League, Villarreal occupy seventh position in the La Liga standings, so their only hope of playing UCL football next season to secure qualification by winning the Europa League.

Emery nearly won the competition during his stint with Arsenal, as the Gunners were beaten emphatically in the final by London rivals Chelsea. He will look to get one over his former team and become the first manager in history to win the Europa League four times, as an intriguing contest awaits us in Spain.

On that note, here are five players who could make a big impact in the first leg of the UEFA Europa League semi-final tie.


#5 Gerard Moreno | Villarreal

Villarreal v Dinamo Zagreb - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Leg Two
Villarreal v Dinamo Zagreb - UEFA Europa League Quarter Final: Leg Two

Gerard Moreno is enjoying his most prolific season as a senior pro and has been Villarreal's standout player this season. The 29-year-old has scored 26 goals in all competitions -- with six of those coming in the Europa League -- and has been one of the most in-form strikers in the world since the turn of the year.

Arsenal tend to struggle defensively at times, so the Spanish international could look to exploit their unsettled backline and get his name on the scoresheet. Villarreal need to score at home to have a realistic chance of qualifying, and Moreno's form will be crucial to their hopes of putting the ball into the back of the net.


#4 Rob Holding | Arsenal

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League
Everton v Arsenal - Premier League

Rob Holding seems to be one of Arsenal's most trusted defenders, with the Englishman expected to play alongside Pablo Mari at the heart of the backline. While new signing Gabriel Magalhaes started the season strongly, he has fizzled out in recent months, due to which Holding has been able to nail down a place in the starting XI.

The 25-year-old has featured just thrice in the Europa League this season, but he started for Arsenal in a 4-0 victory against Slavia Prague earlier this month and could well keep his spot in the team.

Holding has started the last four games in all competitions for the Gunners and even captained Arsenal in the 1-0 loss against Everton. He will have to be at his brilliant best to keep Gerard Moreno at bay, with the Spanish striker seemingly scoring goals at will this season.


#3 Pau Torres | Villarreal

Villarreal CF v Granada CF - La Liga Santander
Villarreal CF v Granada CF - La Liga Santander

Pau Torres is currently one of the most sought-after central defenders in world football and if rumors are to be believed, the Spaniard is a top target for Arsenal this summer. Nevertheless, when the two sides meet tomorrow, Torres' will look to keep things tight at the back for his side and produce an assured display, as he has done so several times this season.

An elegant left-footed central defender by trade, Torres is quite strong aerially and is also comfortable with the ball at his feet. Arsenal could have Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang back for the UEL showdown in Spain, so the Spaniard will have to be on his toes to keep a clean sheet for Villarreal.


#2 Emile Smith Rowe | Arsenal

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League
Arsenal v Everton - Premier League

Emile Smith Rowe has been the surprise package of the season for Arsenal, with the exciting midfielder finally getting his big break at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners were in torrid form towards the end of 2020, but the Englishman's introduction coincided with an upturn in fortunes for the Gunners.

The 20-year-old's energy in the center of the park has been a massive breath of fresh air for Arsenal, while his work rate and versatility has also been on show several times since the turn of the year.

Smith Rowe is one of Arsenal's crown jewels and has quickly become a fan favorite at the club. Arsenal usually tend to dominate games when he's on song, so Arteta will hope for the 20-year-old to reward his trust in him with a match-winning display.


#1 Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang | Arsenal

Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League
Arsenal v Liverpool - Premier League

Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has endured an indifferent season due to a combination of factors. The Gabonese hitman, however, is a proper matchwinner on his day and could well produce another crowning moment for the Gunners in a big game.

The 31-year-old has scored just 14 times across 33 appearances in all competitions this season, making the 2020-21 campaign his worst season at the Emirates Stadium statistically.

Aubameyang missed the last few games after being diagnosed with malaria while on international duty, but he's back fit now and raring to do. He has been underwhelming, to say the least, but Arsenal need their talismanic striker to step up and produce the goods for them in front of goal if they are to have a realistic chance of securing qualification.


Edited by Vishal Subramanian
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