Samuel Chukwueze names Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka as toughest Europa League opponent this season

Chukwueze says he had a tough time getting past Xhak
Chukwueze says he had a tough time getting past Xhaka (Picture: Getty Images)

Villarreal winger Samuel Chukwueze has picked out Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka as the toughest player he has come up against in the Europa League this season.

Ex-Gunners boss Unai Emery’s reunion with his former club was a positive one as Villarreal recorded a 2-1 victory on aggregate over two legs in the semi-finals to book a meeting with Manchester United in Wednesday’s showpiece in Gdansk.

In the first leg of the semi-final tie in Spain, Chukwueze went head-to-head with Xhaka, who was filling in at left-back for the injured Kieran Tierney.

Emery got the better of his former club in the semis
Emery got the better of his former club in the semis (Picture: Getty Images)

Nigeria international Chukwueze skipped past both Xhaka and Dani Ceballos to set up Manu Trigueros’ opener as the La Liga side went on to record a 2-1 win in the first leg.

Chukwueze was stretchered off with an injury on the half-hour mark in the return leg at the Emirates, but Emery’s side held onto a 0-0 draw to send them through to the final.

Speaking to UEFA TV before their clash against United, several Villarreal players were asked to name the most difficult opponent they have faced in the competition so far, and 22-year-old Chukwueze named Xhaka.

‘It was [Granit] Xhaka,’ the winger said. ‘He was man-to-man marking. He didn’t give me space.

‘He was just very close to me and I couldn’t move an inch.’

Villarreal goalkeeper Geronimo Rulli and captain Mario Gaspar, meanwhile, picked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

One of the best players in the Europa League,’ Rulli said of the Gabon international. ‘And well, it was a pleasure to face him.’

‘Given his importance [within his team], it’d be Aubameyang,’ Gaspar added. ‘He was back playing after an injury but he’s a great player.’

When quizzed on the best young player in the Europa League this season, Argentine Rulli opted for another Arsenal player in Emile Smith Rowe.

‘An attacking midfielder who’s great at getting up and down the pitch and he showed this in the tie against Arsenal,’ the stopper said.

‘He did really well in both games.’

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