Unai Emery saw Villarreal claim a 2-1 advantage over former club Arsenal after an eventful first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash that saw both teams finish with 10 men.

Emery, who was dismissed by the Gunners in November 2019 after a poor run of form, watched on as Villarreal seized control thanks to first-half goals from Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol.

Dani Ceballos' sending off only appeared to strengthen the hosts' hand, but Nicolas Pepe's spot-kick in the 73rd minute breathed fresh life into a contest that looked in danger of getting away from Mikel Arteta's team.

Former Tottenham midfielder Etienne Capoue then also saw red in a tie that is deliciously poised ahead of next week's return meeting.

Villarreal scored with the first effort of the game, Trigueros drilling home after Samuel Chukwueze's jinking run ended with the ball being tackled into his team-mate's path.

Shoddy Arsenal defending saw the lead doubled just prior to the half-hour mark when Gerard Moreno flicked on Dani Parejo's corner for Raul Albiol to volley home from close range.

Juan Foyth was excelling going forward but encountered problems against Pepe defensively and only a VAR check for handball in the build-up saved the defender from a penalty call going against him for a trip in the area.

Arsenal started the second half on the front foot but their outing worsened when Ceballos, already on a yellow card, was dismissed for a late challenge on Parejo.

Bernd Leno was called into action to deny the excellent Moreno and that moment proved even more pivotal when Trigueros clumsily tripped Bukayo Saka, Pepe's penalty sent down the middle and just past Geronimo Rulli.

There was even more room for optimism when Capoue hacked down Saka and was dismissed while leaving the field on a stretcher, but Villarreal clung on for a precious win despite returning captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang testing Rulli deep into added time.

If there was one man Villarreal could rely on, it was him. If there was one man they wanted standing over that penalty, it was him. If there was one man in their squad born for such a situation, it was him.

It is April 25, 2006, the kind of night the Valencian city of Vila-Real has seen few of. It's playing host to a Champions League semi-final just eight years on from seeing its team, Villarreal, earn their first promotion to LaLiga.

Having lost the first leg of the semi 1-0 to Arsenal in London, they have so far failed to find a way to level the tie, despite laying siege to the Gunners' goal.

But with time almost up, they have the perfect opportunity to seize the initiative as a marginal call goes their way: Gael Clichy is deemed, somewhat harshly, to have fouled Jose Mari in the box.

Up steps Juan Roman Riquelme, their undisputed talisman and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. A player possessed with the kind of technical wizardry on the ball that few others are – there's surely only one outcome?

But Riquelme's spot-kick is a poor one, placed to his right and at the perfect height for Jens Lehmann in the Arsenal goal.

The German easily makes the save, and Arsenal – not little Villarreal – are going to their first Champions League final.

They met again in the quarter-finals three years later but the tie was rather more one-sided, Arsenal winning 4-1 on aggregate.

Twelve years on and the Gunners aren't quite the power they once were, and Villarreal are looking to settle a score when they meet in their Europa League semi-final first leg on Thursday.

So too is Unai Emery.

A hiding to nothing

Emery's time at Arsenal was probably doomed from the start. Succeeding Arsene Wenger, even with the lack of success towards the end of his tenure, was always going to be a tough ask.

In his second season at the helm, for a while it seemed only a matter of time before he went from Gunner to gonner. He was eventually dismissed on November 29, 2019, and the following month saw Mikel Arteta appointed as his successor.

Though, it's fair to say Arsenal have not seen much of an improvement under Arteta, whose 79 matches in charge is just one more than Emery managed.

Arteta's win percentage of 51 is shy of Emery's 55, while under the latter the Gunners scored 152 (compared to 127). The main difference in the current coach's favour is that they have conceded considerably fewer (80, down from 100), which perhaps is likely linked to the fact Arsenal are less of a threat in attack now.

Emery's Villarreal arguably come into this tie as favourites as well. They boast a better record almost across the board for this season, winning more often (53 per cent to 47), scoring more (87 to 82) and conceding fewer (47 to 54) than the Gunners, and their coach's record in this competition speaks for itself having won it three times with Sevilla, losing just six of 39 games.

If Villarreal can qualify for their first European final, Gerard Moreno will probably have had something to do with it one way or another.

The Spain international is enjoying the best season of his career and is something of a triple-threat.

The key to Emery's revenge plot

Moreno is a clever player. What makes his productivity in front of goal all the more impressive is the fact he's rarely deployed as an out-and-out central striker.

Instead, Moreno prefers to operate from the right, coming inside on to his left foot and occasionally floating around to also maximise his creative talents.

After all, not only is he Villarreal's top scorer with 20 goals this season in LaLiga, he's also laid on the most chances (38) in the Yellow Submarine's squad.

In fact, Lionel Messi (66) is one of only five forwards in LaLiga to play more key passes than the former Espanyol talent.

Moreno's unpredictability is aided by excellent dribbling skills as well, with Messi, Javi Galan and Nabil Fekir the three individuals to better his 62 completed dribbles this term.

Additionally, his success rate is 62.6 per cent – to put that into context, Messi's is 58.6.

Granted, his goalscoring record is slightly skewed by the fact he's scored nine penalties this term, but Messi (25) is the sole LaLiga player outscoring him and he looks set to claim the Zarra award (given to the top-scoring Spaniard) for a second successive season.

His haul of 20 is also an improvement of 2.5 on his expected goals (xG) value as well, evidence that he's putting away more chances than the average player would ordinarily expect.

Moreno has also carried that goalscoring form into the Europa League, where he stands joint second on the list of scorers with six.

The skillset possessed by Villarreal's talisman makes him the ideal player to carry out a number of different roles, but it also means Arsenal have to be alive to the numerous ways he can hurt them: in front of goal, creatively, or with the ball at his feet.

The 29-year-old could have a major role to play for Spain at Euro 2020 at the end of the season. Having a decisive impact for Villarreal in such a big tie may be vital in earning more of Luis Enrique's faith, with La Roja's coach initially taking a little while to warm to him.

But for the moment all the trust he needs is Emery's, and his form this term proves he has the tools to inspire Arsenal's downfall and grasp revenge for the Yellow Submarine and their pilot.

Unai Emery has called on Arsenal to remain faithful in their "perfect marriage" with Mikel Arteta, even though he is aiming to plot his former club's downfall in the Europa League.

Emery has steered Villarreal through to the semi-finals of the competition this season, setting up a clash against the club who sacked him in November 2019.

The Spaniard left Emirates Stadium after 18 months at the helm, the club having won 49 per cent of his 51 Premier League games in charge.

He did lead the Gunners to the Europa League final in his solitary full season in the job – they lost 4-1 to London rivals Chelsea in Baku – and admits a "little corner of his heart" still belongs to Arsenal, as well as the other teams he has coached in his career.

"It is a closed stage and I only have gratitude for having worked there," Emery said of his time at Arsenal.

"It is one more process in my career and I keep the good things that have helped me. Now I am very happy at Villarreal trying to contribute my knowledge, as I did at the time with Arsenal.

"For all the teams I have been at, I have my little corner in my heart for them. But now it is yellow and 100 per cent for this club."

Arteta was appointed as Emery's replacement and while they have done well in Europe in his first full campaign, domestic results have continued to be disappointing.

Arsenal have won just two of their previous eight outings in all competitions ahead of Thursday's game at Estadio de la Ceramica and sit 10th in the English top-flight table, meaning the two-legged tie with Villarreal is crucial to their hopes of securing a return to the Champions League next season.

Still, Arteta's predecessor has made clear the importance of having enough time to turn around the fortunes of a "great club" - something he was not afforded in the role.

"The Premier League is difficult. Arsenal's situation is natural and there were certain circumstances after Wenger's time. We fought for the Champions League and we reached the final of the Europa League," Emery told the media.

"Arteta's work takes time, you have to be patient, trust and sure that the club will find its usual place. That entails time, but I think they will make it."

He added: "You cannot say more than it is a great club, in terms of history and in the present. Arteta has a perfect marriage with the club since he was a beloved player there.

"You see a team with a clear identity, with a very 'Arsenal' idea. There have important players, some with great experience and others who are young players showing quality when given the opportunity.

"We are working to see how to counter them with different plans for the match."

A three-time winner of the competition while in charge of Sevilla, Emery will be aiming to guide Villarreal to a first major European final in the club's history.

However, they have failed to beat Arsenal in four previous meetings in Europe, including in both games of their Champions League semi-final in 2006.

Will Lionel Messi commit to Barcelona or move on? 

The Argentine is out of contract in June and suitors are swirling. 

Paris Saint-Germain appear poised to make a bid. 

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MESSI BID

PSG are prepared to offer Messi an "unbeatable" contract to make a sensational move from Barca, according to a report from TNT Sports. 

The report claims the Ligue 1 outfit will offer Messi a two-year deal with an option for a third year. 

The club will attempt to convince Messi that joining PSG will give him more chances to win titles. 

 

ROUND-UP 

- Jurgen Klopp could turn to his former club for a boost if Mohamed Salah leaves Liverpool, as Bild reports a bid for Borussia Dortmund's Jadon Sancho a possibility for the Reds. Manchester United also are eyeing Sancho after a failed move for him last year.

- United also remain interested in reuniting Erling Haaland with Ole Gunner Solskjaer, according to the Telegraph. Haaland, now with Dortmund, played for Solskjaer as a teenager at Molde. 

- Tottenham are looking at a pair of options in the shape of Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro and Fulham centre-back Joachim Andersen, according to the Daily Mail. 

- Juventus centre back Mathhijs de Ligt could be headed to Barcelona, reports Sport, which also says Villarreal goalkeeper Marc Vidal is a possibility for the Camp Nou club. 

Ronald Koeman promised Barcelona would "go with everything we have" to secure the LaLiga title on an evening when Atletico Madrid faltered again.

The trophy, and a domestic double, looked unlikely prospects as Barcelona stumbled through the opening months of the season.

Yet they will head into May with the Copa del Rey locked away in the trophy room and league glory could follow.

Long-time leaders Atletico have struggled without former Barcelona frontman Luis Suarez recently, and although he came off the bench in Sunday's clash with Athletic Bilbao, Diego Simeone's wobbling side suffered a 2-1 defeat.

It means that although Atletico still hold a two-point lead at the top, Barcelona and Real Madrid are the closest chasing sides, level on 71 points. Importantly, Barca have a game in hand over both their rivals.

The Camp Nou club's 2-1 win over Villarreal strengthened their championship case, with Real Madrid only able to draw 0-0 with Real Betis on Saturday.

Asked about the prospect of a league and cup double, Koeman said on Sunday: "I have never said that it is impossible, but when you have a distance of points and you are behind, you have to go game by game.

"We're in there. But the best way to win this league is to go game by game."

Speaking after Barcelona's win but before Atletico fell to their jolting defeat, Koeman praised his side, who have now gathered 46 points from a possible 51 since the turn of the year in LaLiga.

Of their last 24 clashes with Villarreal in LaLiga, Barca have won 18 times and drawn the other six, a staggeringly good record against one of Spain's better club sides.

"It is closer, but I don't know if it is very close," Koeman said of the title. "We have a track record of many victories. And what the team are doing is something very big, trying to win LaLiga as well.

"We know that if we win all six games we will be champions. We are going to go with everything we have to try to win LaLiga."

Atletico have lost two of their last five LaLiga games, showing fallibility at just the wrong time. They had previously lost just two of 44 league matches, including a strong finish to last season.

A Camp Nou clash between Atletico and Barcelona on May 8 is the standout fixture of the title run-in, and momentum can quickly turn.

Before that, Barca have games against Granada on Thursday and at Valencia on Sunday.

Koeman said it is "difficult to be 100 per cent" when games are coming so thick and fast.

But having come so far, making up so much ground when at one point qualifying for the Champions League looked to be in doubt, Barcelona are determined not to slow down.

As goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen put it on Instagram: "6 finals to go. We must be ready for Thursday."

Antoine Griezmann is proud to be playing his part in Barcelona's LaLiga title push, even if it means continuing to play out of position.

The France international scored twice to earn Barca a 2-1 comeback win away at Villarreal on Sunday after Samuel Chukwueze opened the scoring at Estadio de la Ceramica.

He has 13 goals and nine assists in all competitions in 2021 - only team-mate Lionel Messi (32) and Villarreal's Gerard Moreno (24) have been involved in more among LaLiga players.

Griezmann was once again paired with Messi up top against Villarreal, with Frenkie de Jong and Pedri positioned just behind in a 3-5-2 formation now favoured by Ronald Koeman.

While the 30-year-old was more accustomed to being the focal point in attack during his Atletico Madrid days, he is happy to put the team first in Barcelona's quest for more silverware.

"I try to be there, among the opposition centre-backs," he told LaLiga TV. "I need to make space and create room for my team-mates.

"It's not my natural position, but I'm proud to be at Barcelona and play with these team-mates. Sometimes I'm asked to mark, other times I lead, but I always work for the team."

Griezmann has now scored in three successive matches, his latest brace helping Barca to close the gap on league leaders and former side Atletico to two points.

Barca have taken 46 points from the 51 on offer this calendar year, compared to 38 points in one game fewer for Atletico ahead of their trip to Athletic Bilbao later on Sunday.

The two sides are scheduled to meet at Camp Nou on May 8 and Griezmann acknowledged Barca's fate is in their own hands with six matches to go. 

"We all want to win LaLiga. There are four teams, including Sevilla, that are fighting for it," he said. "We have to try to win every game - that is the only way to be champions.

"It will not be ease but we have the group of players needed to achieve it.

"Atletico are having an incredible season. We are close behind them and trying our best to be champions. We have it in our hands. We just need to win all the games we have."

All five of Barca's shot on target against Villarreal were in the first half, with Frenkie de Jong being denied by a fine Sergio Asenjo save with the game scoreless.

De Jong also missed from a one-on-one late on after the hosts had Manu Trigueros sent off for a challenge on Messi, but the Dutchman impressed compatriot Koeman with his overall play.

"For me, this De Jong is better than the Netherlands and Ajax version," he said at his post-match news conference. "He attacks, defends and is a very important player for this team."

Barcelona, who won their first piece of silverware of the Koeman era with victory over Athletic Bilbao in last week's Copa del Rey final, have a four-day rest before facing Granada in their next LaLiga outing.

Koeman only made one change to his starting line-up for the Villarreal match and does not believe fatigue is a major issue for his side.

"It is more about mentality than freshness," he said. "We have two games this week. The players are use to that.

"Sometimes you have to suffer. We faced a good opponent and did not panic when they scored.

"This is a big step towards the title, as is every victory. Every match is difficult, but we reacted well and defended well, even if we were tired in the final stages."

Antoine Griezmann scored twice to earn Barcelona a 2-1 comeback win over 10-man Villarreal that keeps the pressure on LaLiga leaders Atletico Madrid.

Barca are now unbeaten in 24 league meetings with Villarreal but were made to work hard for their latest victory at Estadio de la Ceramica on Sunday.

Griezmann struck twice in the first half, but only after Samuel Chukwueze had opened the scoring for Villarreal against the run of play with his third goal in as many league appearances.

Manu Trigueros was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Lionel Messi in a quieter second period as Barca made it eight wins from their last nine LaLiga outings, moving them to within two points of Atletico after the same number of matches.

Frenkie de Jong was presented with a glorious opportunity to open the scoring after 16 minutes when teed up by Jordi Alba for what appeared to be a back-post tap-in, but the Dutchman got his feet in a mix and Sergio Asenjo clawed the shot off the line.

Asenjo was then equal to a Messi shot at his near post and that looked to be a pivotal moment early on as Chukwueze had the ball in the net at the other end eight minutes later, the winger rounding Marc-Andre ter Stegen and tucking in.

But Griezmann levelled things up 87 seconds later with a sublime chipped finish over Asenjo and he doubled his tally soon after with a first-time shot after pouncing on a weak Juan Foyth back-pass that did not reach his keeper.

Griezmann would have had a hat-trick before the midway point if not for a low save from Asenjo, while Etienne Capoue was denied by a Ter Stegen save from the game's next big moment just after the hour mark.

Villarreal were in the contest at that point, but Trigueros' red card for catching Messi on the shin with a follow-through challenge left the Europa League semi-finalists with an even tougher task on their hands.

Barca were able to see out the final 25 minutes in a stress-free manner – De Jong failing to beat Asenjo from a one-on-one in the best of the remaining chances – to stay firmly in the title hunt.

Ronald Koeman expects to remain in charge at Barcelona for next season as his team launch a final assault on the LaLiga crown.

The Dutchman was brought in on a two-year contract last August to replace Quique Setien, amid high speculation that presidential elections could mean his reign would last only one season.

There has been huge upheaval at Barcelona since, with rising debt, the resignation of a president, a delayed election that was won by Joan Laporta, and recent talk of a breakaway Super League proving unwelcome distractions.

Amid the off-field turbulence, Koeman has stayed admirably calm, and his team could finish the season with a league and cup double, having already won the Copa del Rey.

They came into this weekend trailing leaders Atletico Madrid by five points, but with a game in hand. Real Madrid, perched between Atletico and Barcelona, were in action on Saturday evening. Fourth-placed Sevilla, the outsiders of the four title contenders, play Granada on Sunday.

Barcelona are handily placed, in form and with a home game against Atletico to come, and if Koeman can deliver a title win he would seem unsackable.

He feels Laporta has his back, saying: "The president has shown me his support and trust since the first day, and until he says the opposite, I believe that.

"At the moment, I see myself as a head coach [in Barcelona] for next season. And I also have a contract. If it is not like that, we have to talk."

On Sunday, Barcelona take on a Villarreal side who sit seventh and have a Europa League semi-final first leg against Arsenal coming up on Thursday.

The future of Lionel Messi has also been a season-long talking point, with the club captain due to reach the end of his contract at the end of the campaign.

However, Koeman is not interested in talking about anything other than his team's targets, and made that point when asked about the Super League.

"We have already talked a lot about the Super League, now there are more important things than talking about UEFA, sanctions or threats," he said. "We have to be aware of the calendar that we have left."

Remarkably, Barcelona have taken 43 points from a possible 48 in LaLiga since the turn of the year, soaring into the title picture.

They have a terrific record against Villarreal too, winning 17 and drawing six of their last 23 league meetings against the Valencian side.

Messi has scored 15 goals in his 23 games against Villarreal in LaLiga, more than any other LaLiga player has managed against Barcelona's Sunday opponents.

Former Everton and Netherlands boss Koeman said Ousmane Dembele is a contender to start Sunday's game, and stressed he could not be sure that injured teenage forward Ansu Fati would play again this season.

Dembele was absent through injury for the 5-2 win over Getafe on Thursday, but Koeman said of the French forward: "He is a very important player for us, because he is a different player from the rest playing in attack, a deep player, able to play one-against-one, with dribbles, shooting with both feet.

"He is very important because he gave us many things this season."

Koeman sees Villarreal as a major threat, and suggested the home team will not be distracted by their upcoming assignment in Europe.

"They are a team that play football very well, with top quality people," Koeman said. "They are proving in Europe to be a strong team.

"They have until Thursday to prepare for the next game. They are also fighting for UEFA positions, For them it is an important game and for us, too. It is an interesting game."

A new defender appears to be at the forefront of Manchester United's planning.

The Premier League giants have been linked with a host of centre-backs.

But they could turn to a familiar club to bolster their defence.

 

TOP STORY – ANOTHER LEICESTER DEFENDER SET FOR OLD TRAFFORD?

Manchester United are eyeing Leicester City defender Wesley Fofana, according to Foot Mercato.

United are targeting a new partner for former Leicester star Harry Maguire – the world's most expensive centre-back – amid links to RB Leipzig's Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, Villarreal defender Pau Torres and Real Madrid pair Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane.

Fofana only joined Leicester from Saint-Etienne at the start of the season and is contracted until 2025.

 

ROUND-UP

- Fabrizio Romano says Konate remains one of Liverpool's top transfer targets. Liverpool are reportedly preparing a five-year contract.

Arsenal are targeting Rennes and France sensation Eduardo Camavinga, reports Marca. The 18-year-old midfielder, who has already rejected a contract extension, has been linked with Madrid, United and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Inter's Martin Satriano is attracting interest from Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea, PSG and Leipzig, claims the Daily Mail.

- Tottenham are considering a move for Barcelona's Emerson, says Mundo Deportivo. The 22-year-old is currently on loan at Real Betis amid links with Inter and PSG.

Atletico Madrid are eyeing Juventus sensation Nicolo Rovella and Udinese's Nahuel Molina, according to Mundo Deportivo.

- Gazzetta dello Sport reports Milan have enquired about Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan as the Serie A side consider alternatives to Gianluigi Donnarumma should he fail to sign a contract extension. Meanwhile, SportItalia says Milan have offered Inter full-back Danilo D'Ambrosio a two-year deal. The Italian is out of contract at season's end.

Unai Emery insists facing a former club is nothing new to him as he aims to steer Villarreal to a first European final at the expense of previous employers Arsenal.

Villarreal made it through to the last four of the Europa League thanks to a 3-1 aggregate triumph over Dinamo Zagreb, who were surprise conquerors of Tottenham in the previous round.

After converting a penalty in the first leg to put the LaLiga side in control of the quarter-final tie, Gerard Moreno was on target again in a 2-1 win on Thursday to make it six goals in his past five outings in the competition.

Next up will be Arsenal, a club where Emery spent 18 months in charge. He reached the Europa League final with the Gunners in May 2019 but was sacked before the end of the calendar year.

"First of all, I'm used to meeting former teams so playing Arsenal, where I coached, is nothing new as an experience. We'll face up to it with humility, pride and responsibility," Emery said.

"This is a chance to establish Villarreal on the top rung of European football.

"The key thing is for us to enjoy what we've done so far and enjoy the opportunity to break our record of reaching semi-finals but not then going on to the European finals."

Emery's current side did concede on home soil when Mislav Orsic pulled a goal back in the second half for Dinamo, though Villarreal comfortably held on to seal their progression.

The final margin of victory could easily have been greater, too; the impressive Samuel Chukwueze - who set up the opener for Paco Alcacer - twice hit the post.

"We tried not to lose the ball cheaply to allow Dinamo to counter," Emery said of the performance.

"We tried to be patient and control the game, to prevent Dinamo creating goal chances, and when it was 2-1, you could see what they were made of and how they knocked Tottenham out. 

"Across the two matches, justice was done and we deserved to be in the semi-finals."

The first leg against Arsenal will take place in Spain on April 29, with Emery's Villarreal then visiting Emirates Stadium the following week in the return fixture.

Mikel Arteta was delighted with Arsenal's clinical victory over Slavia Prague but has warned his side face a tough test against former boss Unai Emery's Villarreal in the Europa League semi-finals.

The Gunners entered Thursday's quarter-final second leg with the tie delicately poised at 1-1, but they produced one of their best displays under Arteta to win 4-0 at Sinobo Stadium and advance 5-1 on aggregate.

Nicolas Pepe added to his first-leg strike by opening the scoring in the Czech capital, setting Arsenal on their way to a straightforward win as an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and long-range Bukayo Saka strike followed inside the first 24 minutes.

Lacazette rounded off the scoring in the second half to confirm a semi-final tie with Villarreal - 3-1 aggregate winners over Dinamo Zagreb - and a reunion with Emery, who was sacked by Arsenal in November 2019 and replaced by Arteta.

Emery has previously won the Europa League three times with Sevilla, while also losing the 2018-19 final against Chelsea during his time at Arsenal, and Arteta is aware of the size of the task now facing his side over two legs.

"It will be really tough and Unai Emery is probably the most successful manager in this competition," he told BT Sport. "There is still a lot to do and things we can improve on, but we have a real desire to improve and be better every day."

Arsenal are effectively relying on the Europa League to salvage their campaign and secure a place in Europe next season, the Gunners sitting ninth in the Premier League with seven games to play.

Arteta was particularly pleased with the way his side responded to having an Emile Smith Rowe goal chalked off at 0-0 on the day as his side held on for back-to-back clean sheets, and a first shutout in eight European games

"We started really well in a convincing way, aggressive in our high press," he said. "We looked a threat all the time. 

"I really like the reaction of the team to the goal being disallowed. We scored some great goals. The clean sheet is important as well, the second one in two games.

"It helped the way we played against Sheffield United. The players were in high confidence, when performances are so high the collective improves. The boys were really at it from the start.

"It is a really important win in a crucial moment. We won in a convincing way, so credit to the players."

Smith Rowe may have been denied a goal by VAR, but he set up Pepe for the opener - his seventh assist in all competitions this season, which is the joint-most of any Arsenal player alongside Willian.

With his strike later in the first half, meanwhile, Saka became Arsenal's joint-top teenage scorer in major European competition, matching the four goals scored by Charlie George and Ray Kennedy.

"For me it's a joy to watch them play to watch them every day in training," Arteta said at his post-match news conference when asked about the young pair's performance. "The passion and the commitment they have for the club is special.

"I'm really happy with all of the players. We came to a tough place to face a team that hasn't lost at home in almost two years.

"I think when we demanded efficiency from them and today is a good example of the efficiency you need in Europe to win matches."

Saka, who now has seven goals to his name in all competitions this season, added to BT Sport: "It shows everyone how exciting we can be. When we play like this it is so amazing to be involved in. 

"We have a chance of going to the final and winning this competition - now it is up to us. We look forward to the next opponent."

Unai Emery will face former employers Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals after his Villarreal side eased past Dinamo Zagreb, with a 2-1 result at home clinching a 3-1 aggregate triumph.  

Gerard Moreno's penalty in the first leg gave the LaLiga side a slender advantage and the in-form striker was on target again on Thursday, taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 25.

Paco Alcacer scored the opener as Villarreal made it eight successive wins in the competition - they will host the Gunners in the first leg on April 29, with the return fixture a week later.

Zagreb had stunned Tottenham with a second-leg comeback in the previous round and while Mislav Orsic did pull a goal back, the Croatian champions saw their involvement in the tournament come to an end.

Villarreal had already seen Samuel Chukwueze clatter a left-footed volley against the post before eventually opening the scoring in the 36th minute.

Alcacer rewarded the home team's dominance with a tap-in finish, though the goal was only awarded after the involvement of the video assistant referee as Chukwueze - who squared the ball for his team-mate to score - had initially been ruled offside.

Moreno added a second prior to the half-time interval, quickly reacting to a sharp save by Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to impressively convert the rebound on the turn.

Orsic - Dinamo's hat-trick hero against Spurs - had twice gone close before eventually beating Geronimo Rulli, slotting home on the angle after exchanging passes with Bruno Petkovic.

However, it was Villarreal went the closest to scoring again, Chukwueze striking the woodwork for a second time before Livakovic denied him a goal his performance deserved with a superb save.


What does it mean? Emery gets Gunners reunion

Villarreal have never made it to a final in a major European competition but Emery is the ideal man to see them end that wait.

The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy three times while in charge of Sevilla, plus also made the final in 2019 with Arsenal – a game that ended in a 4-1 defeat to London rivals Chelsea in Baku.

Emery was sacked by the Gunners in November of that year following a seven-game winless run. In contrast, he is set to make a return to Emirates Stadium with his current team in fine form.

Dinamo undone by Moreno

Moreno has now scored nine times in his past seven outings, a red-hot run that includes a goal for Spain against Kosovo. Only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have been involved in more goals in all competitions in 2021 than the former Espanyol forward (17 goals and six assists) in the top five European leagues.

Chukwueze stars for hosts

Alcacer and Moreno scored but Chukwueze was Villarreal’s star performer. The only thing missing was a goal, though it was not for a lack of trying – he had six shots, albeit only two were on target.

What's next?

Villarreal - who sit seventh in the LaLiga table, just a point behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad - travel to Levante on Sunday, while Dinamo host Istra 1961 in domestic action on the same day.

Unai Emery will face former employers Arsenal in the Europa League semi-finals after his Villarreal side eased past Dinamo Zagreb, with a 2-1 result at home clinching a 3-1 aggregate triumph.  

Gerard Moreno's penalty in the first leg gave the LaLiga side a slender advantage and the in-form striker was on target again on Thursday, taking his tally for the season in all competitions to 25.

Paco Alcacer scored the opener as Villarreal made it eight successive wins in the competition - they will host the Gunners in the first leg on April 29, with the return fixture a week later.

Zagreb had stunned Tottenham with a second-leg comeback in the previous round and while Mislav Orsic did pull a goal back, the Croatian champions saw their involvement in the tournament come to an end.

Villarreal had already seen Samuel Chukwueze clatter a left-footed volley against the post before eventually opening the scoring in the 36th minute.

Alcacer rewarded the home team's dominance with a tap-in finish, though the goal was only awarded after the involvement of the video assistant referee as Chukwueze - who squared the ball for his team-mate to score - had initially been ruled offside.

Moreno added a second prior to the half-time interval, quickly reacting to a sharp save by Dinamo goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic to impressively convert the rebound on the turn.

Orsic - Dinamo's hat-trick hero against Spurs - had twice gone close before eventually beating Geronimo Rulli, slotting home on the angle after exchanging passes with Bruno Petkovic.

However, it was Villarreal went the closest to scoring again, Chukwueze striking the woodwork for a second time before Livakovic denied him a goal his performance deserved with a superb save.


What does it mean? Emery gets Gunners reunion

Villarreal have never made it to a final in a major European competition but Emery is the ideal man to see them end that wait.

The Spaniard lifted the Europa League trophy three times while in charge of Sevilla, plus also made the final in 2019 with Arsenal – a game that ended in a 4-1 defeat to London rivals Chelsea in Baku.

Emery was sacked by the Gunners in November of that year following a seven-game winless run. In contrast, he is set to make a return to Emirates Stadium with his current team in fine form.

Dinamo undone by Moreno

Moreno has now scored nine times in his past seven outings, a red-hot run that includes a goal for Spain against Kosovo. Only Lionel Messi and Robert Lewandowski have been involved in more goals in all competitions in 2021 than the former Espanyol forward (17 goals and six assists) in the top five European leagues.

Chukwueze stars for hosts

Alcacer and Moreno scored but Chukwueze was Villarreal’s star performer. The only thing missing was a goal, though it was not for a lack of trying – he had six shots, albeit only two were on target.

What's next?

Villarreal - who sit seventh in the LaLiga table, just a point behind fifth-placed Real Sociedad - travel to Levante on Sunday, while Dinamo host Istra 1961 in domestic action on the same day.

Cristiano Ronaldo's future beyond this season has been a hot topic of discussion.

The 36-year-old Portuguese forward appears set to exit Juventus after three seasons in Turin, despite being contracted for another year.

Ronaldo has been linked with former club Real Madrid and a switch to the United States, but there may be another option.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO IN UTD-JUVE SWAP DEAL

Manchester United want to sign Cristiano Ronaldo this off-season and would consider a swap deal with Juventus for Paul Pogba, according to Calciomercato.

Ronaldo played for United from 2003 to 2009 in the earlier part of his career, making almost 300 appearances for the Red Devils before his blockbuster move to Real Madrid.

Pogba, who spent time at Juventus from 2012 to 2016, has also been the subject of transfer speculation.

Juventus have this week been linked with a mega swap deal with United as they look for a transfer shake-up this off-season.

ROUND-UP

- The Independent reports Harry Kane's preference, if he was to leave Tottenham, is to remain in England and join either United or Manchester City.

- Juve forward Paulo Dybala has attracted interest from Premier League pair United and Chelsea, claims Tuttosport.

- United are also keen on an off-season move for Madrid defender Raphael Varane, according to The Mail. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United have also been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate, Sevilla star Jules Kounde and Villarreal defender Pau Torres.

- The Daily Mail reports Bayern Munich are bullish they can sign Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland as Robert Lewandowski's heir if he remains in Germany for one more season amid widespread interest this upcoming off-season. Haaland has been heavily linked with City, United, Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain.

- Arsenal midfielder Lucas Torreira is wanted by Argentine giants Boca Juniors, reports TyC Sports. Torreira is currently on loan at Atletico Madrid.

Where will Kylian Mbappe be playing next season is a question being asked across Europe.

The Paris Saint-Germain star has been tipped to join Real Madrid.

Should Mbappe depart Paris, PSG are reportedly drawing up a list of replacements.

 

TOP STORY – KANE AND SALAH WANTED IN PARIS

Paris Saint-Germain have set their sights on Tottenham forward Harry Kane and Liverpool star Mohamed Salah as possible replacements for Kylian Mbappe, according to Telefoot.

Mbappe has been heavily linked with LaLiga champions Real Madrid, though PSG remain in negotiations over a contract extension.

While PSG are still hopeful, the Ligue 1 holders are eyeing the Premier League should Mbappe leave the French capital.

Kane is reportedly wanted by Manchester United and Manchester City, while Salah has previously been linked with Madrid and Barcelona.

 

ROUND-UP

- Calciomercato reports Bayern Munich and Atletico Madrid are chasing Inter midfielder Nicolo Barella. The Sun adds Chelsea are also interested in the Italy star.

Juventus and PSG could exchange Mauro Icardi and Paulo Dybala in a swap deal, says Corriere dello Sport. Icardi's future is up in the air, despite only joining PSG permanently from Inter last year, while countryman Dybala is reportedly nearing an exit.

- AS Diario claims United are keeping tabs on Villarreal centre-back Pau Torres, who has also been linked with neighbours City. United have also been credited with interest in Sevilla defender Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig's Liverpool target Ibrahima Konate as well as Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane.

- Eintracht Frankfurt boss Adi Hutter is set to replace outgoing boss Marco Rose at Borussia Monchengladbach, reports Kicker. Rose is poised to take charge of Borussia Dortmund.

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