Gunners need to make home advantage count

The Europa League quarter-final first legs take place on Thursday as Arsenal face a huge test against Napoli, Chelsea have been drawn against outsiders Slavia Prague, there is an all-Spanish encounter between Valencia and Villarreal and Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt come up against Portuguese big guns Benfica.

Biggest test yet for Gunners

Arsenal entertain Napoli in a showdown that wouldn’t look out of place at this stage in the Champions League.

Gunners boss Unai Emery is a three-time winner of the Europa League after managing successive titles with Spanish outfit Sevilla, but the North London club haven’t always been convincing in Europe this season.

This home clash could be crucial to Arsenal’s chances of reaching the last four given they have lost both of their away legs in the knockout stages so far, against BATE Borisov and Rennes.

Napoli are a step up in quality from the Belarusian and French clubs, and if the Gunners are to continue their European adventure they will almost certainly need a positive result on Thursday.

The Serie A side can afford to put their full focus into this tournament as the Scudetto race is almost over and they look set to qualify for next season’s Champions League.  In contrast, Arsenal are locked in a fight for a top four finish in the Premier League and face a tough trip to FA Cup finalists Watford on Monday.

The Italian club entered the Europa League after dropping out of the Champions League and comfortably saw off FC Zurich in their first knockout game.  Napoli then had to withstand a Red Bull Salzburg fight back to win 4-3 on aggregate after building up a 3-0 first leg lead but overall results have been impressive in Europe.

Napoli managed a draw in the Champions League group stages at Paris Saint-Germain and were unfortunate to go out of the top tournament as they lost just one game.  The San Paolo side finished with the same points and goal difference as Liverpool but went out as they scored seven goals to the Reds’ nine.

Arsenal are 2.40 to win, a draw is 3.45 and Napoli are 3.00.

Napoli forward Dries Mertens stands out in the anytime goalscorer market at 2.60, as the Belgian is their top scorer in Europe this season with four goals across both competitions.

Chelsea should fear surprise package

Chelsea are the Premier League’s other representatives in the tournament and on paper they have been handed a favourable draw in the shape of Czech outfit Slavia Prague.

Unfortunately for the Blues and boss Maurizio Sarri, football is not played on paper and they would be wise not to underestimate their hosts on Thursday.

Slavia, the runaway leaders in the Czech Republic, are unbeaten in their last 10 games across all competitions and haven’t been lost at home since August – their only defeat at the Sinobo Stadium all season.

The Prague outfit downed Sevilla in the last round and will know just how important this first leg is to their chances of reaching the semi-finals.

Chelsea, who like Arsenal also have a top four fight to think about, have an impressive home record but away from home they’ve struggled this season.

Sarri’s side managed to grab a fortuitous win at Cardiff in their last away game and have won their last two European trips, at Dynamo Kyiv and Malmo, but some of their results have been particularly poor – most notably a 4-0 mauling at lowly Bournemouth at the end of January.

If Slavia are to progress they need to win this first leg and they are a generous looking 5.45 to secure a victory.

Chelsea are the 1.66 favourites and a draw is 3.95.

Spanish semi-final spot guaranteed

Villarreal welcome Valencia to El Madrigal in an all-Spanish last eight encounter and both of these La Liga outfits could be forgiven for putting their domestic commitments ahead of this derby.

Los Che are fighting for qualification to the Champions League, while Villarreal face a battle to retain their top flight status.  However, with a place in the last four and local bragging rights at stake expect both to field their best elevens in this match-up.

The Europa League has provided a welcome relief for the Yellow Submarine this season and they remain unbeaten in Europe.  That record could well come to an end against Valencia however, with the visitors appealing at 2.70 to claim a win on Thursday.

Valencia managed draws at Manchester United and Young Boys in the group stages of the Champions League before dropping down to the Europa League and have picked up some big results on their travels domestically too – having drawn at Barcelona and won at Sevilla.

Valencia are one of the form teams in Spain and should have too much for Villarreal over the course of two legs.

Benfica braced for flying Frankfurt

Benfica are another side who find themselves in the Europa League after dropping out of the Champions League.

The Portuguese heavyweights downed Galatasaray and Dinamo Zagreb to reach the last eight but may well come unstuck against Germany’s Eintracht Frankfurt, who are one of Europe’s in-form teams going into this tie.

Frankfurt are unbeaten in 16 games in a run stretching back to January.  The Bundesliga outfit have eight wins in their last nine games and have already dumped Shakhtar Donetsk and Inter Milan out of the Europa League.

The first leg takes place in Lisbon and Frankfurt look excellent value at 3.10 to grab a win.  The visitors are unbeaten in the Europa League this season with six wins and two draws, and they have won their last four in a row on the road – including a 1-0 victory at Inter.

Benfica have a title battle to contend with in Portugal and were held by Gala in their last Europa League home game.  The hosts are the 2.30 favourites and a draw is 3.50, but given Frankfurt’s momentum the visitors may be able to raid the Estadio da Luz this week.