Aaron Ramsey will get an advance taste of life in Italy as Arsenal look to finish off Napoli in Thursday’s return leg of their Europa League quarterfinal tie, ahead of his summer move to Serie A giants Juventus.
The Welsh midfielder, out of contract with Arsenal in June, will end an 11-year association with the Gunners after agreeing a jaw-dropping deal with Juve reportedly worth £400 000 per week over four seasons.
Reduced to a bit-part player under Unai Emery, Ramsey’s recent form – he has three goals in his last six starts – has helped him regain a regular spot in the Arsenal side.
The 28-year-old, set to follow in the footsteps of countrymen John Charles and Ian Rush by switching England for Turin, excelled in last week’s 2-0 win over Napoli and struck the opening goal.
“We’ve given ourselves a great opportunity in the first leg – now it’s important to stick together and hopefully see out this quarterfinal,” said Ramsey.
“They’ve proved that they’re a quality team and are second in Serie A, so they’re a tough team to play against.
“From a few years back, we know that they’re a tough team to play against and it will be a difficult place to go.”
With Ramsey set to join soon-to-be Juventus teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar as one of the best paid players in the world, the Welshman’s Arsenal farewell could coincide with the final in Baku on May 29.
“I haven’t thought about that but hopefully,” said Ramsey, who departed Cardiff for Arsenal after appearing in the 2008 FA Cup final.
“We’ve started this first leg well so hopefully we can finish the job and get ourselves in the hat for the next round.”
Arsenal coach Emery, who won the Europa League three times in a row with Sevilla from 2014-16, praised the unyielding commitment shown by Ramsey, a fan favourite at the Emirates, in his final months at the club.
“It was not easy for him after he signed (for Juventus) to finish thinking about his future, but his focus is to help us and his attitude has been amazing towards each training session,” said Emery.
“He wants to do something important for the supporters, and I want to do something important with him in his last matches here with his Arsenal heart.”
Chelsea, the 2013 Europa League champions, will be expected to overcome Slavia Prague at Stamford Bridge after a narrow 1-0 victory in the Czech capital.
Maurizio Sarri’s side lost ground in the race for a top-four finish in the Premier League following a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool, but the Blues are unbeaten in 14 Europa League games.
Nevertheless, the Italian has warned his players not to underestimate Slavia, who are hunting a second Czech title in three seasons.
“We need to think that the second leg will be difficult because these opponents are really very dangerous also away,” said Sarri.
Benfica head to Germany with a 4-2 advantage over Eintracht Frankfurt thanks to a hat-trick by 19-year-old starlet Joao Felix in the first leg in Lisbon.
Felix became the youngest Portuguese and Benfica player to score three times in Europe, surpassing the great Eusebio.
Valencia are in control of their all-Spanish clash with Villarreal after stoppage-time goals by Daniel Wass and Goncalo Guedes gave them a 3-1 lead heading to Mestalla.
(1st leg scores in brackets)
Chelsea (ENG (1) v Slavia Prague (CZE) (0)
Eintracht Frankfurt (GER) (2) v Benfica (POR) (4)
Napoli (ITA) (0) v Arsenal (ENG) (2)
Valencia (ESP) (3) v Villarreal (ESP) (1)