Villarreal vs Arsenal | Thursday 29th April 2021, 20:00 | BT Sport
Villarreal take on Arsenal in the first leg of their hotly-anticipated Europa League semi-final on Thursday, with Unai Emery locking horns with Mikel Arteta, who replaced him in the Arsenal dugout.
Neither side have enjoyed particularly fruitful domestic campaigns, with Villarreal currently seventh in La Liga and Arsenal 10th in the Premier League, so winning this competition represents both club's only chance of competing in the Champions League next season.
Villarreal have won all six home matches in this season's Europa League, with Arsenal winning six and drawing once on the road, so something has to give here.
Much will depend on Arsenal's team news, with David Luiz, Kieran Tierney, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette all racing to be fit in time after recently suffering injuries.
The early indications are that one of Aubameyang or Lacazette may be fit to lead the line, with the two defenders perhaps having to wait until next week's second leg to compete.
Villarreal have their own star striker in Spain forward Gerard Moreno, who has bagged 20 league goals this season as well as scoring six goals in his last five EL games. As such, quotes of 13/8 (bet365) for Moreno to score anytime may well be worth backing as I'd be amazed if Villarreal don't score.
A safer bet I prefer, though, is Bukayo Saka to have a shot on target at 11/10 (Betfair). The winger generally comes in off the right flank these days, often playing as Arsenal's highest player in order to help him make penetrating runs in behind the opposition's back-line, which saw him have two shots on target in Arsenal's 4-0 win at Slavia Prague last time out in this competition.
Along similar lines, Samuel Chukwueze is a left-footed winger who plays off the right for Villarreal, with the Nigerian scoring against Barcelona at the weekend. Indeed, he has landed six shots on target across his last three games as well as having two against Dinamo Zagreb last time out in this competition, so for a fun longshot I like the look of him and Saka both having 2+ shots on target each at 50/1 (Betfair).
Artur Dias of Portugal holds the whistle for this potentially feisty affair. Dias has proved to be a rare breed this season in that he's one of the few notable referees whose card averages have actually increased across all of the competitions which he has officiated.
Indeed, he has shown 12 yellow cards across his two Europa League games, while averaging 4.95 cards per game in Portugal and 4.50 across his four Champions League games.
As mentioned, I certainly expect Villarreal to score here as they have scored two or more in all of their European games this season, while only Slavia Prague, Sheffield United and West Brom have failed to score against the Gunners on their travels since the turn of the year.
Likewise, Arsenal have scored in all of their seven European away games this season – with only Benfica limiting them to one goal – so both teams to score and each team to receive 1+ card looks a good play at 11/8 (bet365), particularly if one of Lacazette or Aubameyang do start.
My eye is also drawn to the fact that Villarreal have two former Tottenham players likely to start for them in Juan Foyth and Etienne Capoue, who are both fiery customers and no strangers to a yellow card.
They have both averaged over 2.5 tackles and 1 foul per game in this season's competition and have also received nine cards in just 24 La Liga starts between them, so with their former club ties, I'm more than happy to take them as a double at 11/1 (William Hill).
Villarreal vs Arsenal – Bukayo Saka to have 1+ shot on target (11/10 Betfair)
Villarreal vs Arsenal – Bukayo Saka & Samuel Chukwueze to have 2+ shots on target each (50/1 Betfair)
Villarreal vs Arsenal – Both Teams To Score and Both Teams Over 0 Cards (11/8 bet365)
Villarreal vs Arsenal – Etienne Capoue and Juan Foyth to be carded (11/1 William Hill)