Arsenal 3-1 Valencia: Lacazette and Aubameyang put Gunners in control of semi-final tie
Photo: Getty Images - Shaun Botterill

Arsenal 3-1 Valencia: Lacazette and Aubameyang put Gunners in control of semi-final tie

Arsenal survived an early scare to take control of their Europa League semi-final clash with Valencia. 

Matt Dawson

Arsenal's rut is over. For large parts, it wasn't pretty, but they have one foot in the Europa League final after a 3-1 win over Valencia in the first leg of their semi-final tie. 

Unai Emery seems to have a knack of getting over the line in this competition and he could be on the verge of creating another bit of history.

Mouctar Diakhaby opened the scoring in a nightmare start for the hosts before a quickfire double from Alexandre Lacazette settled the nerves.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was then on hand late in the piece to make things look far more comfortable. 

Story of the game

The Gunners defence in recent matches has been nothing short of a shambles. Therefore, conceding after 11 minutes was the worst possible start.

If there had already been nerves then this certainly didn't calm them.

It was poor defending again from Arsenal that allowed Valencia to steel in early on. Rodrigo's header back across goal found its way to Diakhaby. The 22-year-old had three men in red and white around him but he was somehow allowed to leap above them all to head home from close range.

It could have been a lot worse for the Gunners who almost found themselves two goals down. A ball from the left came across after more calamitous defending but Ezequiel Garay fired over the bar.

The defender was just two yards out and had the goal at his mercy but blazed it over the bar. It was a huge let-off for Emery's men who then suddenly came to life.

It was Arsenal's dynamic duo in attack that brought them back into the tie. Lacazette fed Aubameyang down the right channel before the striker had the intelligence to check back and then play the ball back to the Frenchman.

With the Valencia keeper dragged out, he had a simple tap in from the edge of the area.

His second goal was far less assured. Granit Xhaka played a lovely ball in from the left and Lacazette just about made it two. His headed attempt was into the ground and despite the best efforts of Neto, it crossed the line. 

Arsenal had turned the game around but it could have been more comfortable in the second period.

Lacazette was at the heart of everything good the Gunners did and on another night he could have had four. Aubameyang was again the provider as he clipped a cross towards the forward but he completely fluffed his lines and failed to make proper contact. 

Another chance was presented to the Frenchman a short while after. He had acres of space inside the penalty area to find the net, but he planted his shot straight at the 'keeper's legs. 

Things were looking familiar for Arsenal fans. Against Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals last year, the Gunners spurned chances before the Spanish side scored a dramatic late equaliser.

But Valencia were less threatening and seemed content to take a 2-1 loss away from the game.

However, they were to concede again deep into injury time. Sead Kolasinac stood the ball up to the back post and Aubameyang was there to volley the ball past a combination of defender and goalkeeper. 

It was a terrific way for Arsenal to end a three-match losing streak, but they'll have to be as solid as they were in Naples when they travel to the Mestalla next week.


Koscielny overcomes recent struggles

The French defender suffered that horrendous Achilles injury in Madrid almost a year ago when he had to be stretchered off against Atletico in the semi-final second leg. And it seemed as though he was on a one-man mission for redemption on Thursday night. He struggled early on but then put in a colossal performance on essentially one leg. He looked extremely fatigued but made several key challenges. 

Cech an assuring figure

This was Petr Cech's final game on English soil but it was an assuring one and where Arsenal have lacked leadership in recent games, he was able to offer that against Valencia. He wasn't called upon on too many occasions but he made a vital stop to deny Kevin Gameiro late in the piece. The Gunners will miss his presence in the dressing room next season.

Lacazette at the double

This was a typical Lacazette performance this term. He scored two lovely goals before then also missing chances to put the game to bed. But he was a constant thorn in the Valencia defence and showed why he very much deserves to be in the conversation for the Gunners' Player of the Season award. He's scored more goals this season (18) than he managed in the entirety of the last campaign (17).

Gabriel fails to haunt former side

The Brazilian defender has been a solid figure since returning to Spain and Arsenal fans may have been fearing he'd come back to haunt his ex-club. It wasn't a disastrous display from Gabriel but there was evidence on a few occasions of why he was moved on. Saying that, he'd probably be a better option than a certain Shkodran Mustafi.