Valencia vs Arsenal Preview: Gunners aim to restore pride and reach Europa League final 
Photo: Getty Images

Valencia vs Arsenal Preview: Gunners aim to restore pride and reach Europa League final 

Arsenal need to defy their away day jitters and maintain their first leg advantage, in Valencia, as it is make or break for their hopes of returning to the Champions League, writes Sam Tonks.

sjtonks
Sam Tonks

Just when you think Arsenal have managed to overcome their most recent fall, they crash into another hurdle. A vital 3-1 first leg win over Valencia in their Europa League semi-final last week, overshadowed by a disastrous 1-1 draw against Brighton.

The second consecutive collapse at the Emirates Stadium in the Premier League, all but ended their chase for the top four, even after Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United faltered.

Looking at the table now, if Arsenal had won just their last two home games, they would be a point clear of rivals Spurs with a game left, astonishing.

It has been a remarkable dip in form for Unai Emery's men, but they do have the save and grace of the Europa League.

They happen to have a connoisseur in this competition, Mr Emery winning it three years in a row at Sevilla. In his and Arsenal's way, one of his former employers, Valencia.

Recent Form

When Arsenal have travelled, they haven't exactly set the world alight over the last couple of years. Last season, they won just once on the road in 2018, in the league, on the final day in Arsene Wenger's farewell. In 2019, they have just three away wins, in all competitions.

Two victories have come since February, beating Watford and in the last round at Napoli. For all the attacking talents they possess, it is just five goals in their last seven away games, it is certainly not hopeful form for supporters but this is make or break for the Gunners.

As for their La Liga opponents, they are still in the conversation for a top four position, lying just three points off of fourth place Getafe with two games left.

They have been pretty consistent in the new year, suffering just one loss in 21 games across all competitions between January and April, including beating Real Madrid and drawing with Barcelona.

A 6-2 win over Huesca at the weekend was a good reaction to last week's first leg, but they were toppled by Eibar at the Mestalla in their last home game, 1-0.

Their league position gives the Spaniards hope of Champions League football on two fronts still, Arsenal know they dare not slip up. Emery consistently guided Valencia to top-three finishes in his spell in charge, keeping them in the Champions League. Now he must ensure his new club has the same result.

Previous Meeting

It was a case of Arsenals' dynamite duo in attack that has given them a crucial two-goal lead heading into the second leg.

Valencia were quickest out of the blocks, Ezequiel Garay inexplicably missed from close range and Arsenal's defence was being cut to pieces. In the 11th minute, Mouctar Diakhaby towered above three Arsenal men to head home from a corner and grab a crucial away goal.

This sprung Arsenal into life, in particular, their front three. Pierre Emerick Aubameyang combined with Alexandre Lacazette to level the score on 18 minutes. Just seven minutes later, Granit Xhaka's cross picked out the Frenchman who's header was too strong for Neto to handle and the Gunners had turned it around.

It was a closely-fought second half, but Aubameyang arrived in stoppage time to volley in Sead Kolasinac's centre, providing Arsenal a crucial two-goal buffer to take to sunny Spain.

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Team News

Arsenal have no new concerns after the draw with Brighton, with U23 stars Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock travelling out for the second leg.

Aaron Ramsey started in the last round away at Napoli, but was ruled out for the rest of the season following an injury in Naples.

As for their opponents, Daniel Wass and Kevin Gameiro should come into the starting line-up after settling for substitute appearances last week.

Words from the Managers

Arsenal boss Unai Emery spoke of his past success in this competition and his ambition to go and win the second leg during his pre-match press conference:

"It's an attractive title and it's getting more attractive, it has grown and I have seen that shift. Giving teams a Champions League place through the Europa League is a fair reward and it's a title they all want to win.

"Arsenal only have two European titles in their history: the old Fairs Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup, neither of which [still] exist, so I have a lot of ambition to win a title. Our idea is to play the match thinking to win. To win you need to score. They are an organised team, strong defensively and have attacking players with big quality, it will be very difficult."

Liverpool produced one of the greatest comebacks in European history on Tuesday, defeating Barcelona 4-0. Valencia coach Marcelinho said they can take inspiration, in his pre-match press conference:

"That game demonstrates that anything can happen, it's a lesson that tells us if we play to our maximum we'll have the chance to make it to the final. Every game is different and just because Liverpool beat Barcelona it doesn't mean we have to knock out Arsenal, but if we do pull it off it's because we believed we could be in the final."

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