Sunday 19 May 2019

Awesome Aubameyang sinks Valencia

Valencia 2-4 Arsenal (Arsenal win 7-3 on aggregate)

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring his side's first goal during their victory over Valencia. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates scoring his side's first goal during their victory over Valencia. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Jonathan Liew

Who needs the drama and excitement of a European comeback when you can win your semi-final as convincingly as this? That will be Arsenal's argument, anyway, on a night when the wide-eyed footballing passion we have seen all week was replaced by the cold, merciless finishing of one of the finest forwards in Europe.

There was no chance of Valencia repeating the trick produced by Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur, not when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is in this mood. With Alexandre Lacazette, Arsenal have £100 million-worth of elite attacking talent, boasting speed and technique and, above all, an ability to seize a big game by the throat and throttle it into submission.

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette scores their second goal. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Boyers
Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette scores their second goal. Photo: Reuters/Andrew Boyers

They have been taking turns throughout this Europa League semi-final.

Lacazette got two in the first leg, Aubameyang got one. Aubameyang got three here, Lacazette got one. The Europa League has become the last hope for Arsenal, their only realistic route into the Champions League, and it is these two strikers who have dragged Unai Emery's side to the final.

Together, they have scored 10 of Arsenal's last 13 goals in this competition. Credit for this win goes to them, then, but also to Emery for finding a system that allows them to thrive. With Arsenal's season on the line, their head coach was unflappable as he continued his mastery of the tournament. Emery has now won 19 consecutive knockout victories in the Europa League, stretching all the way back to 2012.

It is next stop Baku for Arsenal, who will take great heart from the way they quelled a hostile atmosphere on a sweltering, sweaty night in Spain.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left) battles for control of the ball with Valencia's Armando Gabriel. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (left) battles for control of the ball with Valencia's Armando Gabriel. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Marcelino, the Valencia coach, had cited Liverpool's "remontada" against Barcelona as an inspiration but the challenge for his side was less daunting. A 2-0 win would do it for Valencia.

And so Arsenal needed to be resilient, intense, aggressive. They needed Lucas Torreira to be scrapping in midfield. They needed Aubameyang to be prowling in attack. They needed Petr Cech, playing in either the penultimate or ultimate match of his career, to be assured in goal.

The blueprint for Emery's side had been drawn up in the previous round against Napoli. They drew the sting from the Italians, then scored the crucial away goal. Arsenal were desperate to score again, but perhaps that was the source of their early difficulties.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles flew up the right wing, shooting across goal, and Valencia broke at speed. Suddenly it was three on three in the Arsenal half, and Valencia's three had considerably more speed than Arsenal's three.

Tapped

Laurent Koscielny could not keep up with Rodrigo and Kevin Gameiro, lurking at the far post, tapped in the opener. In that moment the tie evolved from tricky away match into a genuine test of Arsenal's nerve.

Fortunately for Arsenal and Emery, who knows his first season at the club will now be judged on whether they win this competition, Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are not the nervy types.

As it was in the first leg, when Arsenal's strikers looked like Champions League forwards surrounded almost entirely by Europa League players, those two were sharper than the rest.

Lacazette turned an aimless hoof into an assist, flicking on the bouncing ball for Aubameyang. The early strike, taken before Valencia had clocked the danger, seared into the corner and changed the dynamic once again.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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