Arsenal need Europa League specialist Unai Emery to save them
Emery's success in Europe's second-tier competition lifts Gunners' hopes to qualify for Champions League
Unai Emery's first season in charge at Arsenal is in danger of imploding unless the Spaniard can again prove himself to be a Europa League specialist and cover up an alarming dip in the Gunners' English Premier League form.
Arsenal have lost four of their past five league games to Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City to slip down to fifth and rely on more favours from Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur to have any chance of a top-four finish.
However, winning the Europa League would also offer a much-needed return to the Champions League next season after a two-year absence.
Emery is a specialist in Europe's second-tier competition, winning it three times when at Sevilla. He is also well acquainted with Arsenal's semi-final opponents, Valencia, who he managed between 2008 and 2012.
Emery also did a stellar job at the Mestalla, leading Valencia to three consecutive third-placed finishes behind dominant Barcelona and Real Madrid sides managed by Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho.
However, doubts remain over Emery's ability to lead Arsenal back to the heights they once enjoyed under predecessor Arsene Wenger.
The same defensive issues that haunted the Frenchman's final years in charge have been in evidence in recent weeks, conceding three times in three consecutive league defeats for the first time since 1967.
Emery has constantly changed personnel and formations, but is yet to find the right balance with one of his two star forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang often left out.
Injuries have also played a big part, with long-term absentees, Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Danny Welbeck continue to miss out.
Also ruled out of tomorrow morning's (Singapore time) semi-final, first leg are Denis Suarez and Aaron Ramsey - both of them played their final match for the Gunners.
Yet, there have been notable successes. Top-four rivals Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester United were all beaten at the Emirates this season and Emery's men won home and away to Napoli in the Europa League quarter-finals.
Arsenal go into the final two games of the league season just two points off the top four, compared to languishing 12 points behind in Wenger's final season.
"At the beginning of the season, we knew it was going to be very difficult (to finish in the top four)," said Emery after the weekend's chastening 3-0 defeat by Leicester.
"We will continue, we will not look at the table, the Europa League is a big motivation for us."
SIMILAR CASE FOR VALENCIA
Valencia find themselves in a similar situation to Arsenal in looking at the Europa League to save a disappointing domestic season. A shock 1-0 home defeat by Eibar on Saturday leaves Los Che sixth in La Liga and three points outside the top four with three games left.
Valencia defender Gabriel Paulista will return to the Emirates tomorrow and has said he has "nothing to prove" to his former employers.
"With all respect to Arsenal, I have nothing to prove to them any more," said the Brazilian.
"I deserved more opportunities at Arsenal. I knew I had the ability to play, but other people didn't think so. I've proven myself here and now I just want to keep showing what I can do for Valencia.
"I could not be happier. The boss, the fans, the people at the club are happy with me. I want to be the best and I want to stay here for many more years." - AFP