NEWCASTLE, England (AP) – Arsenal captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave manager Mikel Arteta food for thought after scoring on his return to the team ahead of Thursday night’s Europa League semifinal match against Villarreal. Aubameyang managed just five minutes as a substitute in the first-leg defeat by the Spanish club after recovering from malaria. Still, he played 77 minutes and scored in Sunday’s 2-0 Premier League win at Newcastle to signal his readiness to play a part in the second leg.
“We thought he wasn’t going to manage that,” Arteta said. “On Thursday, the day before, he was really struggling, to be fair, he could only manage to play 10 or 15 minutes. But the day after and the day later, he started to feel better and it’s good to see that he was fine today. He performed well, and he scored a goal, so it’s a real boost. However, Arteta’s satisfaction at his captain’s contribution was tempered by the loss of defender David Luiz, who limped off at St James’ Park with a hamstring problem.
He felt something in his hamstring, so it’s not good news,” Arteta said. “He’s put in such a shift to be back with the team for the last few weeks after the knee surgery and it’s a real shame. With Kieran Tierney and Alexandre Lacazette yet to train with their teammates after knee and hamstring injuries respectively and unlikely to be available on Thursday as a result, Luiz’s loss would represent a further blow. Winning the Europa League could be the only route into Europe next season – into the Champions League – with Arsenal ninth in the Premier League.
Arteta consoled himself with a commanding display on Tyneside as the Gunners eased to a 17th win in 18 attempts against the Magpies in all competitions. Arsenal took an early lead through Mohamed Elneny’s first Premier League goal and never looked back, although they had to wait until the 66th minute to wrap up a routine victory when Aubameyang rounded off a superbly crafted move by dispatching Gabriel Martinelli’s cross at the far post. Apart from David’s injury, that’s all we wanted,” Arteta said. “We wanted to keep the team fresh, players with the right attitude to play this game and being able to focus just on today.