LONDON: Arsenal will take on Napoli in the pick of the ties in the quarter-finals of this season’s Europa League following Friday’s draw, as Chelsea were paired with outsiders Slavia Prague.
Unai Emery’s team will host Napoli at the Emirates Stadium in the first leg on April 11, with the return in Italy a week later.
It is a tough draw for the Gunners, with Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli currently second in Serie A — they were eliminated from the Champions League in the group stage despite beating Liverpool at home and drawing twice with Paris Saint-Germain.
The winners of that tie will go on to a semi-final against the winners of an all-Spanish quarter-final between local rivals Valencia and Villarreal.
Both La Liga sides defeated Russian opposition in the last 16, with Valencia edging out Krasnodar and Villarreal, who are struggling domestically, knocking out Zenit Saint Petersburg.
Before winning the Europa League three years running with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016, Emery really came to prominence during three years in charge of Valencia. He led them to three consecutive third-place finishes in La Liga between 2010 and 2012.
Emery and Ancelotti are both former Paris Saint-Germain coaches, but the latter may have wished for a match-up with another of his old sides, Chelsea.
Instead, the west London club will face Slavia, heading to the capital of the Czech Republic for the first leg on April 11.
Chelsea, winners of the Europa League in 2013, will fancy their chances of advancing, although they would be wise to beware a Slavia side who are top of the Czech league and knocked out Sevilla in the last 16.
The winners of that tie will go through to a semi-final against either Benfica or dark horses Eintracht Frankfurt.
Benfica, who dropped out of this season’s Champions League at the group stage, lost to Chelsea in the 2013 Europa League final and were then beaten by Sevilla on penalties in the final a year later.
Eintracht are a dangerous prospect, and the only German survivor in any European competition this season.
The 1980 UEFA Cup winners, and runners-up in the European Cup in 1960, won the German Cup last season and are fresh from eliminating Inter Milan in the last 16.
This year’s Europa League final will be held in Baku, Azerbaijan, on May 29. The winners will secure passage to next season’s Champions League group stage.