Arsenal Ride Their Luck In First Leg v Valencia

Online Editorial: 3-1 victory after a very patchy opening spell

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It took until a decent proportion of the crowd had left to beat the rush for the tube, but in time added on, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found the goal from a tight angle to score what may prove to be a critical goal in making the final score of this semi-final first leg 3-1 to Arsenal.

It was a result that really couldn’t have been foreseen after the opening period of the game. Valencia’s Argentinian defender Garay conspired to fire over the bar with the goal gaping, but having been let off once, next time the visitors had the ball in the goalmouth Arsenal’s defenders were punished. A corner to the back post was headed back across the six yard box and in spite of having far more bodies in there, the home side were unable to stop the French centre back Diakhaby from nodding it in from close range.

Ultimately, it was the quality of Arsenal’s forwards that salvaged the game. The combination play from Lacazette and Aubameyang for the equalizer was a thing of beauty, with pace, composure and accuracy meaning Lacazette could pass the ball into an empty net at the conclusion of the move. 18 minutes gone and the scores were level, and the home support only had to wait another eight minutes before their side were ahead, as Granit Xhaka’s cross was met by Lacazette who headed the ball in, despite the keeper’s attempt to stop it.

Having weathered the early storm, it now felt like Arsenal were on top, and from this point on, the defending improved. Emery went with a back three and it was interesting to see that he decided to select Mustafi ahead of Monreal. In fairness to the entire back three, once the game settled down, they all played well, although Valencia’s threat couldn’t be quelled completely.

After the interval, Arsenal initially seemed to be controlling the game, but the third goal wouldn't come. Guendouzi was replaced by Torreira and it felt like Unai Emery might be more concerned with not conceding than scoring another. Valencia fashioned more chances, with Cech getting his colleagues out of jail at one point, but in spite of committing less men forward, Arsenal had the better chances, with Lacazette fluffing more than one very presentable chance to secure a hat-trick.

It was his strike partner who did score the game’s final goal, just as injury time began, converting his shot from an acute angle after meeting Kolasinac’s cross. Cue wild celebrations for those still in the stadium. The significance of that goal cannot be overstated. 2-1 and Arsenal would travel to the Mestalla next week knowing 1-0 would eliminate them. That has now become a 2-0. And should Arsenal manage to find the net, Valencia would need three just to take the game to extra time. Emery’s side are in the box seat.

Koscielny seemed to hobble off late on when replaced by Monreal, but will hopefully return for the second leg. It would be a surprise if the Arsenal player played any part against Brighton on Sunday. Emery will likely play another weakened team in that game, even though all it requires is Chelsea to draw one of their two remaining Premier League fixtures to open the door for Arsenal to make fourth place.

Back to Europe though, and Emery has every chance of making another final of a competition he seems to have mastered. Last year, against an admittedly superior Atletico Madrid side, the Gunners fluffed their lines in the equivalent game, giving away a late goal to go to Spain on level terms. Not so this time around, although 12 months ago, Aubameyang was ineligible. He certainly made a difference last night, his interplay with Lacazette giving a Valencia defence including former Gunner Gabriel a real headache.

It was significant also, that the team did not fold when they went a goal behind, although they rarely suffer that fate at home, and against Palace last time they played at the Emirates, they did rally after the first goal conceded. It was the second that seemed to kill them. The players though, seem hungry for this trophy. Many will already be looking at the prices of that trip to Azerbaijan, although the tie is not dead yet. At 4-1, maybe you could say that, but 2-0 is not a result that is out of the bounds of likelihood next week, which would put the Spanish side through. Arsenal need to try and nick a goal, giving them margin for the inevitable defensive error.

The Mestalla can be a tough place to get a result, and much better Arsenal sides than the current one have lost their on the two previous occasions they have travelled there. The two goal margin certainly favours Emery’s side though. They can afford a one goal defeat. That first 15 minutes could have easily seen the lose the tie were the visiting side more clinical. You generally need a slice of luck in the cups and The Gunners enjoyed a bit of that last night. Without it, we could be talking about conceding three goals for the fourth match in a row.

The display of bags above the head was far less effective than the displays we’d seen at Spurs and Barcelona on the previous two evenings, due the the sheer number of late arrivals. I wonder how it is that their fans can get in for kick off and Arsenal’s can’t? One other thing for the club to take note of. Pre-kick off light shows don’t cut it before it gets dark.

Ten years ago Arsenal had a disastrous start in the home leg of their European semi-final, against Manchester United, being two goals down after about ten minutes, and ending up on the wrong end of a 3-1 scoreline. Fortunately, things worked out last night. Let’s hope May continues to be lucky for the club. In truth, they’ll need more fortune given the self-imposed handicap of their inability to defend for 90 minutes.


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  1. markymark

    May 5, 2019, 08:17 #113702

    Mad Max - my ticket cost £36.50. Not being funny but the ticket cost wasn’t extravagant. Personally I’d have a standing area for 5-10 thousand or so of supporters priced at a lower rate. The supporters are attending they just need to be congregated together

  2. mad max

    May 4, 2019, 20:51 #113701

    well said Moscow, leaving the ground 10 minutes early proves their not true fans, their probably the ones that arrive 10 minutes after kick off. the trouble is the real arsenal fans were priced out of going to matches when we left our beloved highbury back in 2006, it really is sacrilege to leave that early and especially a European semi final so embarrassing for the club

  3. markymark

    May 4, 2019, 15:39 #113700

    Blimey Moscow Gooner, I’m glad you dropped in the I’m not accusing you! Not guilty of the charges. I was into the match early , left after final whistle and got home after midnight. Same as every evening match. Now those others ! Hmmm

  4. Moscowgooner

    May 4, 2019, 10:47 #113699

    Markymark - with respect I think the question of queues is entirely irrelevant: this is a European semi final - of which we’ve had far too few in our history! If it takes you until dawn to get home so be it - these are the games in which you should be in the ground half an hour before kick off and leave only when the players have left the pitch. Arsenal/Juve back in 1980: the ground was heaving long before kick off and I doubt that anyone at all left before the final whistle; it wouldn’t have mattered if we had to walk home that night. If you’re going to arrive late and leave early for a semi final, better give up your seat for a real fan. You’re not helping the club, the team or your fellow fans by being there for half a game. (Not accusing you personally of being a ‘part timer’ - I’m making a general comment about those who are!)

  5. markymark

    May 4, 2019, 07:37 #113698

    On the subject of queues it really would help if the Holloway Rd tube was opened for match leavers. I tend to use Holloway Rd to get to the Emirates and it’s only slightly further than Arsenal tube. The decision not to run Drayton Park trains is perplexing. It does seem difficult for such a connected up part of London

  6. The Man From UNCLE

    May 3, 2019, 20:05 #113697

    Lacazette's finest game in the hallowed red and white shirt. One away goal from the final.

  7. John F

    May 3, 2019, 19:07 #113696

    Good game with our front two being the difference and Cech playing well after my doubts about him..On leaving early,I think it is down to the queues at Arsenal station taking so long to go down.I remember at Highbury that we used to queue on the right side of the station and it used to go down pretty quick but now it seems to be a lot slower.If people have interconnecting trains to catch it could cause problems.Are there fewer trains now?


    May 3, 2019, 18:48 #113695

    Could & should have been 5-2 but pretty good result which Keown seemed happy with. I expect to lose Auba for the majority of next season with stress fractures to his back - the medics have been trying to stop him from doing those somersaults as he has hit 30 - but this is just pure envy on my part as I wish I could do that at my advanced age!! I noticed Dick did not use the word "big" in his post match interview - wonder how his "how to improve your english " lessons are going? I also note that the knives are already out for Thomas Tuchel at PSG after his first season - what a gig from hell that job is.

  9. markymark

    May 3, 2019, 16:28 #113694

    Hi Ron - I was there last night . The atmosphere wasn’t too bad though not up to Arsenal v Ahtletico which was electric. I do agree though the leavers are an embarrassment . How many of them are literally on a timeframe of minutes to miss their train? Not many I bet. The only think I would say is that 19:45 kickoffs always work best in my opinion. If I can get round to it I might write up a little piece about Hertha Berlin who I saw play Dortmund. An all seater stadium in an oval with running track. The atmosphere was nuts. Onwards and upwards

  10. itsRonagain2

    May 3, 2019, 14:59 #113693

    Cracking result for our boys. 3-1 First leg at home cant be bad though im betting the 2nd leg will still be a very harum scarum ride. The crowd there these days are nothing short of embarrassing. One of the most important ties since the CL Final in 2006 and it was like a funeral plus the early leavers. SK must love the passivity of it all.

  11. GoonerRon

    May 3, 2019, 11:36 #113692

    I’d have taken 3-1 before the game so happy with the result. When you get to the latter stages of European competition you’re likely to be up against a strong team with good tactical awareness and technical ability, so the fact we conceded chances isn’t a huge surprise. After the shaky start I thought we controlled 20-90 minutes pretty well - key headed clearance from Kos and vital save from Cech at 2-1 could prove to be as vital as the third goal. I thought this was the best games I’ve seen from Auba and Laca as a genuine two - not just the goals but the work rate was fabulous.

  12. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    May 3, 2019, 10:57 #113691

    Good report Kev - still thinking about fans who leave a European semi final before the end to catch a train, Oh please.

  13. ArsenalMagna

    May 3, 2019, 10:19 #113690

    I had written off Koscielny before but he played so well last night - I really think that if/when we buy new CBs our priority should be ones with pace (Manolas anyone?). Hard to know if Valencia were happy with a 2-1 loss or whether we just dictated the play really well. They only had a few spells in the first 20 mins where they really looked good and other than that they just put together a few nice counters. That said, I thought we looked at our best on the counter last night too. Next week I'd go for a 4-2-3-1, Torreira and Xhaka holding, Mkhi in 10 role (he is very good on the counter), and Iwobi/Auba on the flanks.