Arsenal will look to make the most of their home advantage when they host Valencia in the first leg of the UEFA Europa semifinals at the Emirates on Thursday.
The Gunners have a terrific run in the competition, and it bodes well that Unai Emery has lifted this cup thrice with Sevilla. The Spaniard’s mastery over the tournament was there to see as Arsenal won their group with ease, dropping just 2 points.
While the games against BATE Borisov and Rennes in the first two knockout rounds were closer than the London side would have liked, they did manage to get over the line. They came into their own against Italian heavyweights and Champions League dropouts Napoli in the quarters.Embed from Getty Images
Emery’s side won the tie 3-0 on aggregate, shutting Carlo Ancelotti’s side over 180 minutes and emerging as one of the favorites to lift the trophy. Further, Arsenal have a couple of incentives to give their all in this competition.
Firstly, they were knocked out by Spanish opposition, Atletico Madrid, last season who went on to win the tournament. Secondly, Arsenal are currently 2 points away from 4th-placed Chelsea with just two games to go in the Premier League. Thus, the Gunners could miss out on Champions League football next season and would like to win the Europa League to get back into Europe’s premier competition.
It is a similar story for their opponents as well. Valencia took part in this season’s Champions League group stages and finished third behind Juventus and Manchester United. On dropping down to Europa League, they dispatched Celtic and Krasnodar before meeting Villarreal in the quarters.Embed from Getty Images
They won both the legs against their fellow Spanish side, setting up an exciting semifinal with Arsenal. Now, Valencia also have the same motivations as their opponents in terms of Champions League qualification for next season.
Los Ches are currently 6th in the La Liga table with 52 points from 35 games. With three games to go, they are 3 points behind Getafe and Sevilla, who are in 4th and 5th respectively. Thus, they need results to go in their favor if they want to finish in the top four.
However, the Europa League is a better route, and Marcelino’s side will look to lift the coveted trophy to secure passage into next season’s Champions League.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal will be without their star midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who joins long-term absentees Rob Holding, Danny Welbeck and Hector Bellerin on the sidelines. Mesut Ozil and Nacho Monreal missed the weekend’s loss to Leicester through injury and are doubts for the game.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles was sent off against Leicester but is free to play in this match. Finally, Laurent Koscielny is likely to return to the starting XI after sitting out the Premier League game on Sunday.
Marcelino is expected to be without Geoffrey Kondogbia and Denis Cheryshev while former Arsenal player, Francis Coquelin, is set to miss out due to suspension.
Right-back Cristiano Piccini is a doubt for the game as well, and Daniel Wass could deputize for him once again.
Arsenal vs Valencia Prediction
Coming to head-to-head, both teams have met thrice in European competitions so far, and Valencia have run out winners every time. The Gunners have won just 10 of their 33 matches with Spanish opposition, and have lost of their last four two-legged ties against the same opponent.
However, the Gunners have kept a clean sheet in 9 of their last 11 Europa League games and have won their last three games in the competition. On the other hand, Valencia are unbeaten in the Europa League this season, winning 5 out of their six games so far.
In terms of recent form, both the teams are out of rhythm at the moment. Arsenal have lost each of their last three games while Valencia have lost their last two games.
Thus, history and form point to a cagey tie with Arsenal making the most of their home advantage to edge out the first leg.
Arsenal Predicted XI: Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Torreira, Kolasinac; Iwobi, Mkhitaryan; Lacazette
Valencia Predicted XI: Neto; Wass, Garay, Paulista, Gaya; Torres, Soler, Parejo, Guedes; Moreno, Mina
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