Villarreal vs. Arsenal Betting Odds, Preview, Prediction: Total Has Value in Europa League Semifinal
Juan Manuel Serrano Arce/Getty Images. Pictured: Villarreal standout Gerard Moreno.
- Teams with a whole lot to play for go at it Thursday when Villarreal battles Arsenal in a Europa League semifinal-round match (3 p.m. ET, Paramount+).
- The only shot either side has at making next season's Champions League is by winning this competition.
- Anthony Dabbundo breaks down the first leg of this tie below and explains why he's expecting a low-scoring match.
Villarreal vs. Arsenal Odds
|Over/Under||2.5 (+102 / -125)|
|Day | Time||Thursday | 3 p.m. ET|
|How To Watch||Paramount+|
|Odds updated Wednesday afternoon via DraftKings.|
Neither Arsenal nor Villarreal has a chance at qualification for next season’s Champions League unless they win the Europa League competition. That adds to the stakes when they square off Thursday in the first leg of their semifinal matchup in Spain.
Arsenal sits 10th in the Premier League and won’t be in Europe at all next year unless it can lift this tournament’s trophy. On the other side, Villarreal is in good position to make next season’s Europa showcase or new Europa Conference League next year since it’s in seventh in the La Liga table.
The real storyline here is about the managers, though. Villarreal’s Unai Emery was in charge of Arsenal in the post-Arsene Wenger era in 2018, as well as part of the 2019 campaign. Emery was sacked in favor of current Arsenal leader Mikel Arteta.
With that in mind, Emery will surely be out for revenge against his former club.
Under Emery, the Yellow Submarine is a slow-paced attacking side that doesn’t press a ton defensively and looks to possess the ball. The club ranks fourth in passes into the final third in the Spanish top flight, as well as third in passes into the penalty area. Despite these solid attacking ball-progression numbers, Emery’s side doesn’t get off a ton of shots.
Villarreal isn’t a team to take lots of shots from distance, as it ranks ninth in shots per 90 minutes in Spain. Instead, the players rely on high-quality chances ,as they’re second best in expected goals per shot.
This can work against lesser sides in Spain and in this competition, but the Gunners aren’t going to allow any of those opportunities. Villarreal has the third-shortest average shot distance in the Spanish division.
Emery’s side, which doesn’t progress the ball quickly at all, and doesn’t rely on counters to create chances. The result against this Arsenal team is a possession-based passing structure battle, with plenty of managerial tactics.
As bad as Arsenal has been in the EPL this season, it has been dominant in the Europa League against lesser sides. While the Gunners were as low as 15th at one point in England’s top flight, they steamrolled through the group stage.
Arsenal nearly went out after a lackluster performance against Benfica, but have since dominated Olympiakos and Slavia Prague — formally known as Slavia Praha — over two legs to advance to the semifinals. The Gunners have all of their focus on this competition, which is their only chance at silverware this year and in Europe next year.
For all of the talk of Arsenal’s improved offense, its numbers domestically don’t show much reason to be optimistic against this Villarreal side that’s pretty solid on the defensive front. The Gunners are ninth domestically in shots per 90 and seventh best in xG per shot.
Despite being fifth in passes into the final third, Arsenal is just eighth in passes into the penalty area. Its attack tends to breakdown in the crucial areas of the pitch, because its attackers just aren’t consistently good enough.
On a bright note, there’s encouraging news on the injury front for the Gunners, who could have creative fullback Kieran Tierney returning to the side. Arsenal excels at being press resistant and passing through teams.
Arteta’s done a good job of setting up possession structures, but this isn’t really a big advantage in this matchup because Villarreal doesn’t press much. Emery’s side is 10th in passes per defensive action, as well as bottom half of the table in pressing success rate.
The result of that generates periods of sustained Arsenal possession that typically doesn’t lead to much.
Betting Analysis & Pick
Due to the fact this is the first leg, I’m expecting a conservative approach from both managers.
The Arsenal possession-based style will create lots of conservative possession, along with stale periods without clear goal-scoring opportunities. Villarreal will be happy to concede space and possession, with the hope of denying big scoring chances.
Arsenal relies so much on its striker to do it all. Unfortunately for the Gunners, no one has proven an ability to consistently create and finish chances.
My projections make the total for this match at 2.06 goals after adjusting for the first leg. That has me backing the total under 2.5 goals as my top pick.
If it’s 1-1 late, Arsenal will probably be happy seeing out that result away from home, so I’d also look to play a live under if an early goal is scored in the tie.
Pick: Total Under 2.5 Goals (-125)