Villarreal v Arsenal – Estadio de la Ceramica, Villarreal, Spain – April 29, 2021 Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka in action with Villarreal’s Pau Torres [Reuters, Pablo Morano]

Arsenal have endured a difficult campaign and languish in tenth place in the Premier League standings.

Even though five matchdays remain this campaign, the chances of Europa League qualification for next season appear to be remote and there is a real chance the Gunners could miss out on a top-half finish.

However, Mikel Arteta’s side are just three games away from winning the Europa League with similarities drawn to last season’s FA Cup trophy helping to salvage their season.

Their semi-final pairing against Villarreal promises to be their biggest challenge in the competition so far, with a spot in the final against either Manchester United or Roma awaiting.

That of course means that they are facing their old boss Unai Emery, who was dismissed from the North London club in November 2019.

Here is what the Gunners need to be aware of about Emery’s Villarreal ahead of the tie.

Europa League specialist

Unai Emery guided Arsenal to the Europa League final in the 2018/19 campaign, only to go down 4-1 to London rivals Chelsea in the showpiece.

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The Basque boss also coached Sevilla to three successive Europa League titles between 2013 and 2016 and has once again flexed his muscles in this season’s competition.

That means Emery has managed in 21 two-legged knockout ties in the Europa League since 2012, across three different clubs – and has won all 21.

Emery is somewhat of a cup specialist and he is the master at guiding his side to victory over two legs.

Moreno the main man

Villarreal’s danger man is undoubtedly Gerard Moreno, who has netted 26 goals across just 33 starts in all competitions this season.

The 29-year-old is not only the Yellow Submarine’s key striker, but he is arguably the best Spanish striker in La Liga.

Moreno has netted 10 goals in his last 10 appearances with six goals in six starts in the Europa League.

He is often partnered with another Spain international – Paco Alcacer.

Tactical flexibility

As per analysis from, the Yellow Submarine have deployed eight different formations across this campaign.

Villarreal boss Unai Emery [Reuters, David Klein]

On all but two occasions this campaign, Emery has opted for a flat back four but it is those ahead of them who often line-up in different formations.

The classic 4-4-2 formation is the most frequently used formation (18 games) but 4-3-3 (15 games) has also been deployed often.

The trio of Dani Parejo, Manuel Trigueros and Etienne Capoue – formerly of Tottenham and Watford – are almost always used at the base of the midfield, but the roles of Moi Gomez, Samuel Chukwueze and Paco Alcacer often change depending on the opposition.

Torres in high-demand

Outside of striker Moreno, the highest profile player at Villarreal is central defender Pau Torres.

Manchester United and Real Madrid are among the clubs who have been linked with the defender, with ESPN reporting the player is keen on a summer move.

Torres – now a regular in Spain’s international setup – is left-footed and comfortable carrying the ball out from the back and building attacks from deep.

Spain boss Luis Enrique said on the defender, in quotes carried by Football Espana : “I like him to as a left-handed central defender. It does not condition me, but I must admit that I like him. I like everything about Pau, because I like the players who are able to carry the ball out and I like his tactical sense.

“I like everything about him; he’s tall, handsome and a good kid.”

A different beast in Europe

Villarreal have been unstoppable in Europe this season – winning 11 and drawing one of their 12 matches in the competition to date.

However, they have managed to scrape together just 12 victories in La Liga this campaign and have fallen short of their top-four target.

Emery’s side languish in seventh spot, winning just four of their last 15 league games and losing six of the last 11 – with their domestic struggles not too far removed from Arsenal’s campaign.

Too many draws has prevented the Yellow Submarine from challenging the top sides in the division – they have been involved in 13 stalemates in the league this campaign, with only relegation battlers Real Valladolid (14) involved in more.


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