Our first final in almost 100 years: Believe or be worried?

The time is here. In about 36 hours, Villarreal and Arsenal will match up in what is arguably the most important day in Villarreal’s history, and certainly a vital one for the Gunner’s manager, Mikel Arteta, if he hopes to keep his job.

On one hand, Arsenal is surrounded by controversy. The worst home record in almost 90 years, a heavily questioned manager, key players coming back in the knick of time but very little match fitness, and the club’s own fanbase debating whether to protest Stan Kroenke and his Superleague attempt in the streets pre-match, during it, or flat out break into the Emirates Stadium and force the game to be canceled.

In Vila-real, the waters are much calmer, but as we say in Spain, “The procession is on the inside.” We know this is arguably our best chance ever to make a final. After a great first half in Vila-real, we fell apart and finished the match with a bare 2-1 win against the Arteta’s men–but it was an advantage, after all.

As the match day approaches, Villarreal and its fans know that this advantage is valuable, regardless of how it was earned. Now, fans, club, players and the Villarreal world as a whole is asking itself a very simple question that is hard to answer: do we, as a club, finally have what it takes to make a final? Is this our moment?

If you ask me, we do. We have the right manager, in the most successful Europa League coach of all time, Unai Emery; we have arguably one of the top five best strikers in Europe in Gerard Moreno; and we are playing with a slight advantage, in a rival stadium without fans, and against a club in turmoil. I can’t really think of a better setup for a match where “all” we need to do is not lose.

There are other things to consider, both good and bad. These are my thoughts as I see the landscape in front of Villarreal.

Reasons to believe in Thursday:

  • The boss: Emery’s experience as the best manager in the history of the Europa League, including three consecutive ELs with Sevilla.
  • Villarreal’s record to date: The Yellow Submarine has always gone through when winning the first leg by 2-1
  • The club’s year in Europe, spotless: Villarreal is the only unbeaten team in the Europa League, and along with Manchester City, it’s the only team that hasn’t lost in Europe this season
  • The Gunner’s home record: Arsenal’s season at home is the worst one since the 1929/30 season. Arteta’s men have lost nine matches at the Emirates Stadium in the 2020/21 exercise.

Of course not everything is roses, and there are a few things to consider in the not-so-great column:

  • Weak knees: Villarreal’s historical luck in semifinal rounds means we could see the sky close around us if we let an early goal in
  • Get out of our heads: The teams could be projecting on the untested (and controversial) Slovenian referee we have been assigned after the VAR call last Thursday. I won’t write the referee’s name here as that’s my point–it doesn’t matter. We need to forget and move on
  • Arsenal will force the machine: Villarreal is looking likely to re-join the EL via La Liga; this is Arsenal’s last bullet to play in Europe next year

However you want to slice it, Villarreal has an amazing chance to make the final in Poland. If we are able to focus on our match, come out with everything and not drop back and hope for the best, and help each other on the field (especially when players like Mario and Pedraza need help), this could be our year. I certainly hope it is. It’s our time. It’s our moment.

Other bits

Sounds like David Luiz will miss the match. The brazilian center back injured his hamstring and is all but ruled out for Thursday.

Obviously Juan Foyth will miss the Europa League matchup, but It is confirmed that Foyth will be out of commission for four weeks, which means the season is over for him. The muscle injury he sustained was as serious as expected and Juan could miss between 4 to 6 weeks.

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