Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s 90th minute goal against Valencia could well be enough to seal Arsenal’s first Europa League final appearance since the competition changed its name.
The Gunners spurned a host of chances at The Emirates and it looked like history may be repeating itself from last season.
Fortunately Aubameyang’s goal has given Arsenal some breathing space ahead of the second-leg, for which they are heavy favourites in the betting. But as we know with Arsenal this season, nothing is a sure bet, especially away from home.
Weathering the storm
Much has been made of Valencia’s profligacy in front of goal this term, the Spanish side have scored just 40 goals in their 35 La Liga games thus far. That’s almost 20 less than Sevilla who sit just ahead of them in the table and it’s less than half of Barcelona’s total.
To simply write Valencia off because of those less than favourable goal scoring stats is reductive. In fact in their last league games Valencia have scored 12 goals at an average of 2 per game (including 2 away to Atletico Madrid, an imperious defensive outfit.)
Kevin Gameiro, Dani Parejo and Goncalo Guedes have all played a significant part in Valencia’s return to goal scoring form. In an intimidating atmosphere at The Mestalla, Arsenal will have to stand up to the fight in the first half hour and weather the storm.
Worryingly for Arsenal fans their team haven’t shown that kind of defensive steel away from home on more than a handful of occasions all season.
Playing on the counter
In Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette Arsenal have one of the most potent attacking duos in European football. Indeed it was a combination between the two that sealed Arsenal’s vital third goal in the first-leg of this semi-final.
Arsenal’s progression to the Europa League final will depend on Lacazette and Aubameyang’s ability to rise to the challenge in Valencia. A high-paced start from the visitors could play right into Arsenal’s hands as they look to exploit space in behind and hit Valencia on the break.
Just one goal from the Gunners at The Mestalla will almost certainly guarantee their passage to the final in Baku, Azerbaijan.
The final: Who awaits?
The other Europa League semi-final was a somewhat tighter affair as Chelsea battled to a 1-1 draw away at Eintracht Frankfurt. Pedro’s away goal makes The Pensioners slight favourites ahead of the second-leg at Stamford Bridge, however Eintracht are no pushovers.
The German outfit currently occupy fourth place in the Bundesliga and have entertained neutrals all season with their swashbuckling style. Luka Jovic and Sebastien Haller have been the key men for Eintracht this season as they have looked to outscore their opponents in every game.
Danny da Costa provides his team with a pacey outlet from right-back and his willingness to overlap will cause Chelsea to think twice about overloading their attacks. Home advantage of course makes Chelsea the favourites but Eintracht have all the necessary tools to shock the West London side on their own patch.
Who would Arsenal rather face in the final?
Eintracht Frankfurt’s journey to this stage of the competition has far tougher than Chelseas. En route to the semi-final stage Eintracht have prospered over Inter Milan and overturned a 4-2 first-leg defeat to Benfica in the quarter-finals.
In the Bundesliga they have also demonstrated an ability to go toe-to-toe with the division’s best teams. Eintracht certainly have the quality to beat Arsenal in a one-off game and their propensity to rise to the big occasion would make them a tricky opponent.
The same cannot be said for Chelsea who despite their good recent form have been in a state of flux for most of the season. Sarri’s side were comfortably dispatched 2-0 by Arsenal at The Emirates earlier in the campaign and Emery seems to have the tactical edge over his Italian counterpart.
Sarri’s inflexibility in big games has been his undoing throughout the season and Arsenal would surely fancy their chances against Chelsea in the Europa League Final. Plus, it would be much more satisfying to beat Chelsea than Eintracht in the final!