Arsenal face their third Europa League semi-final in four years when they come up against Villarreal and former head coach Unai Emery on Thursday evening.
With their inconsistent Premier League form leaving them some way off the top four, winning the Europa League seems the only likely way for manager Mikel Arteta to take the Gunners back to the Champions League.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at some of the key talking points ahead of the first leg at El Madrigal.
Keep friends close and Emery closer
Emery endured an ill-fated 18-month reign at the Emirates Stadium after replacing Arsene Wenger – but he did lead them to a Europa League final, which they lost 4-1 to Chelsea in 2019. The Spaniard has won the competition an unparalleled three times during his career and will be looking to add to that impressive tally this season. Arteta was chosen as his successor and, while delivering the FA Cup, he has been unable to push Arsenal back towards the top end of the Premier League table. The current boss knows there will be questions asked if he cannot see off Emery and reach his first European final.
Keep eyes on the prize
As former US Open golf champion Tom Kite once said: “You can always find a distraction if you’re looking for one.”
Arsenal players have plenty of reasons to be distracted in recent days, with the club announcing they were joining the ultimately unsuccessful European Super League project. Add to that renewed protests against owner Stan Kroenke and a potential takeover bid from Spotify founder Daniel Ek and things off the pitch are very uncertain as Arteta must make sure the playing side of things ticks along nicely.
Oh Ek! Will Spotify founder be watching?
As the anti-Kroenke protests rumbled on during Friday night’s defeat by Everton, Swedish billionaire and chief executive of music streaming network Spotify, Daniel Ek, tweeted that he would be interested in buying the club.
What seemed at first like a throwaway line quickly materialised into something genuine – with Arsenal greats Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira all on board. Ek came out on Wednesday and said he has funding and is “very serious” about launching a takeover bid, something the fans will be even more keen to see if Arsenal lose this tie.
Arsenal’s hopes of securing a good first-leg result in Spain have been boosted by the return to fitness of a number of their key men. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in contention having missed the last four games after contracting malaria during March’s international break. Fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette is back following a hamstring issue while the knee problems suffered by David Luiz and Kieran Tierney have lessened to the extent that they too could feature in Arteta’s plans.
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