In a thrilling night of football, Arsenal beat Valencia 3-1 in the Europa League.
It was a tense occasion at times but the Gunners sealed a huge victory that puts them in a great position to make the Europa League final. Who were the winners and losers?
Winner: Alexandre Lacazette
How can a person not like Alexandre Lacazette? The Frenchman is an absolutely wonderful striker. He can shoot, he can dribble, he can pass, he can do just about everything you’d want a striker to be able to do and he seems really nice as well. His compatriots love him, and his partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can’t help but put a smile on your face.
— Samuel Umtiti (@samumtiti) May 2, 2019
On Thursday, with Arsenal 1-0 down at home, it was Lacazette who set about correcting things. First, his gorgeous through-ball set Aubameyang away, but Lacazette didn’t just admire his pass, he rocketed forward to be available and he was key in the end.
Aubameyang got held up, but was able to cut back and slip the ball into space where a rushing Lacazette calmly slapped the ball home.
And he wasn’t done there either. Not 10 minutes later, Granit Xhaka beamed a beauty of a cross in from the left-flank. The ball was aimed at the far-post where Lacazette rose, Pelé-like, and used all the power in his neck muscles to thump a wonderful header goalwards.
Goalkeeper Neto got a hand to it but the header had been struck too well and crossed over the line. The ref signalled goal and Lacazette had rescued Arsenal! Who couldn’t like him? He’s brilliant!
Loser: The Valencia defence
Ezequiel Garay played in the 2014 World Cup final, and he was excellent. He’s a centre-back of colossal quality whose reading of the game and aerial prowess has more than made up for his lack of pace over the years. In a Valencia shirt, he’s been amazing against Barcelona and Real Madrid amongst others. But against Arsenal, he wasn’t great.
Of course, the reason for this is that he was trying to defend for the entire side. His team-mates, Facundo Roncaglia and Gabriel Paulista, were both absolutely anonymous and utterly incapable of getting a grip of any and all of the Arsenal attackers. As a result, he was overworked and the Valencia defence was so poor. Roncaglia got sent for a spin by Aubameyang on the first goal and all three of them were incapable of handling the crosses that led to Arsenal’s second and third goals. A night to forget.
Winner: Mouctar Diakhaby
Mouctar Diakhaby had a great game at the Emirates, but it could have gone quite horribly for him. Played out of position in midfield, Diakhaby’s night started off rough as Sokratis barrelled into his ankle (in a challenge that should really have seen the Greek defender sent off) and left him in a crumpled heap.
Instead, he gritted his teeth through some treatment then got back up on his feet and played his absolute heart out. A thunderous display where he bombed up and down the field, protecting his own goal but also providing thrust forward. And, of course, it was he who rose highest to head-home Valencia’s crucial away goal.
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Loser: Matteo Guendouzi
It’s so easy to be supportive of young players breaking through into the first-team. Even their flaws are easy to forgive because you know they’re young and really trying their best. Matteo Guendouzi has benefited hugely from this kind of support form the Arsenal fans.
But perhaps it’s now time to acknowledge that, with Lucas Torreira fully settled in and Granit Xhaka playing well alongside him, Guendouzi probably shouldn’t be starting any more games of consequence this season?
Look, he’s 20, he’ll recover, but Thursday was a prime example of the kind of problems he produces. The Frenchman was rarely able to get a handle on the Valencia midfield and Dani Parejo in particular ran circles around him. It was no surprise to see him subbed off.
Winner: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Arsenal’s self-proclaimed Black Panther stood tall in a way that only a hero can do. Obviously, Lacazette scored twice but he also missed two sitters. Aubameyang operated with a cooler sense of efficiency and invention.
Alexandre Lacazette: ⚽️⚽️
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: ⚽️🅰️
They delivered. https://t.co/q0qthCcsLN
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 2, 2019
His run in behind for Arsenal’s first showed his incredible pace but also the intelligence of his movement. He found a hole and bore down to make it even bigger. And then when he saw the defence closing him down, he cut back onto himself and fed the ball sideways for Lacazette to slot home. A sublime assist – and he should have had another as his wonderful cross was fluffed by Lacazette.
Then, at the end of the night, he showed up to drive the dagger into Valencia’s hearts with a very, very late goal. Aubameyang drifted to the near-post but then darted to the far-post into space so when Sead Kolasinac’s cross came in, he was in space to deftly volley the ball in at the near-post – his 34th goal for Arsenal in just his 59th appearance for the club – and put the Gunners on the verge of the final.
Winner: Unai Emery
How does he do it, eh? Every single time. Arsenal have been garbage lately, losing three games in a row and not playing well. Then they started Thursday poorly and went 1-0 down. Yet, as always, the Gunners gathered themselves and righted the ship, first equalising and then taking the lead.
Unai Emery’s team-selection was always perfectly executed. Even his use of Matteo Guendouzi, who was poor, was accidentally brilliant as he took him off at exactly the right moment to unleash Lucas Torreira and shut down the Valencia attack. He paired Lacazette and Aubameyang and the duo were tremendously impressive together as they picked Valencia apart. And in the most impressive move, he managed to deploy Shkodran Mustafi in such a way that he wasn’t an absolute disaster!
Unai Emery wins the Europa League. That’s what he does. And on current evidence, he looks bound and determined to do it again.