LONDON • 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' Premier League form.
Arsenal have lost four of their past five league games to slip down to fifth, with their chances of a top-four finish depending on favours from Chelsea or Tottenham.
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 club competition, winning it three consecutive times with Sevilla from 2014, and he is also well acquainted with today's semi-final opponents, Valencia, who he managed between 2008 and 2012.
He did a stellar job at the Mestalla, leading Valencia to three consecutive third-placed finishes behind the dominant Barcelona and Real Madrid sides.
"They are a very good team with good players. It will be a difficult match," Emery said of Valencia. "We will continue, we will not look at the (league) table, the Europa League is a big motivation for us."
However, doubts remain over his ability to lead the Gunners back to the heights attained by former boss Arsene Wenger in the earlier years of his management.
The same defensive issues appeared to have returned in recent weeks as Arsenal conceded three goals in three consecutive league defeats for the first time since 1967.
Emery has also yet to find the right balance with his two star forwards Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rarely playing together.
Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri, meanwhile, has challenged his players to finish a turbulent season strongly when they travel to Eintracht Frankfurt in the other semi-final today.
"We are fighting for the top four and in the semi-finals of the Europa League. We have done a good season," the Italian insisted.
"Now we need to take two very important targets."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA
ARSENAL V VALENCIA
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FRANKFURT V CHELSEA
Singtel TV Ch112 & StarHub Ch213, tomorrow, 2.55am