Ian Wright makes prediction for Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final second leg against Villarreal
The Gunners are in with a chance of reaching May’s showpiece in Gdansk after Nicolas Pepe’s second-half penalty earned them a vital away goal as they slipped to a narrow 2-1 defeat in Spain last week.
Villarreal, managed by ex-Arsenal boss Unai Emery, took a 2-0 lead into the half-time break courtesy of goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.
With his side cruising at the break, Emery decided to take off forward Paco Alcacer in place of another former Arsenal man, defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin.
Villarreal then had a man advantage when Dani Ceballos received a second yellow card for a late challenge, but the Gunners got their crucial goal from the penalty spot via Pepe after Bukayo Saka had been tripped in the box.
Etienne Capoue was then sent off for a second bookable offence as both sides ended the match with 10 men.
The result has set up an intriguing spectacle at the Emirates on Thursday, which Gunners legend Wright feels his former side will win.
‘For me, I think that Unai’s Coquelin substitution when they were flying, that has to come back to bite him,’ Wright said on Ringer FC’s Wrighty’s House podcast.
‘He’s done it with us before he’s done it before in his career. It’s something he’s always done and it’s cost him and I think that was our way back in, we weren’t meant to be in the game.
‘They should’ve finished us and they didn’t, that’s why I think we’re going to beat them.
‘[Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang looked sharp the other day [against Fulham] and I feel that with the players, Emile Smith Rowe, [Bukayo] Saka, [Nicolas] Pepe, I just feel like they’ve got to recognise this is it. And I think that’s a sign for me.’
In Kieran Tierney’s recent absence through injury, Mikel Arteta has been using Granit Xhaka as an auxiliary left-back.
Wright wants to see the Swiss international back in his natural midfield position, with full-back Cedric Soares at left-back.
‘Ideally for me, you play Cedric Soares at left-back and put Xhaka back in midfield because he can keep the ball safe and give that pass that we need,’ Wright added.
‘It does not make me comfortable seeing Xhaka at left-back. It’s not his thing, that’s not where he should be.
‘Cedric was bought and signed for four years to play at either right or left, play him! Play Xhaka where he should play and then it’s out of Saka or Pepe to be on that side.
‘Go with the strongest team. [Dani] Ceballos doesn’t make my team, I would rather have Mohamed Elneny in there, I know he scored the other day but he’s got a drive and a determination about him. You cannot dislike his output.’
In the other Europa League semi-final, Manchester United take a healthy 6-2 advantage over Roma heading into the away leg at Stadio Olimpico on Thursday.
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