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Emery maintains Arsenal ‘still favorites’ ahead of his Emirates Europa League return.

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Emery maintains Arsenal ‘still favorites’ ahead of his Emirates Europa League return.

Emery maintains Arsenal 'still favorites' ahead of his Emirates Europa League return.

Villareal boss Unai Emery maintains that the Gunners remain favorites to reach the Europa League final as he plans to return to the Emirates Stadium with Villarreal.

The former Arsenal boss Emery holds a 2-1 advantage over his former club in the semi-final with the tie going into Thursday’s second leg.

Manu Trigueros and Raul Albiol had given Villarreal a two first-half goal lead inside the first 30 minutes in the first leg and the Gunners seemed doomed after Dani Ceballos was sent off.

But a controversial penalty that was won by Bukayo Saka and superbly converted through Nicolas Pepe to ensure Mikel Arteta team got back to the gane.

A superb statistic shows that Villarreal have advanced from 15 of their 16 two-legged ties in major European competition when winning the first leg.

But strange to note is that the only exception was against an English club at the same stage of the same competition – in a tie against Liverpool in 2016 – and Emery feels Arsenal are the most credible team to advance.

“The first-leg result doesn’t change my initial thoughts on the competition,” Emery stated at his pre-match news conference.

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“Arsenal started as a favorite and they are still favorites at this stage. The first-leg result is too narrow to make a big difference.

“We have to try to compete with these types of teams.

“When I analyze our opponents, the first thing I do is study them and try to prepare to play against them at their best.

“Arsenal are structurally solid, they can keep possession, combine well, and have quick and technically-gifted players.

“We are going to see Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, so we will face the best Arsenal side, both collectively and individually.”

Villareal talisman Gerard Moreno has either scored or assisted in each of his seven starts in the Europa League this season (six goals and three assists).

Arsenal, who are relying on the Europa League to rescue their campaign, know a place in next season’s Champions League is the prize if they win the tournament.

They have advanced from each of their last two European knockout ties where they lost the first leg.

And not since 1995-96 have Arsenal failed to qualify for European competition of some sort, with Mikel Arteta admitting the value of keeping that run going in his pre-match news conference.

While he believes his side are underdogs, Emery is keen to highlight the importance of this accomplishment.

“It is a very beautiful moment for us,” he said.

“We have been working throughout the year trying to build on our confidence, results and objectives, and in the Europa League we’ve had a fairly solid campaign so far.

“We are approaching the game in the same way we did the first leg.

“We will build on our performance in the previous 90 minutes. We are 2-1 up, but that doesn’t change anything. We are going to try to be ready for whatever lies ahead.”

Arsenal have lost just one of their 11 knockout games with Spanish opposition at home, with that loss coming against Barcelona in the Champions League last 16 in February 2016.

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