Arsenal booked their place in the Europa League final with a professional performance against Valencia.
Already 3-1 up from the first leg, the Gunners eluded a couple of scares and sealed a 4-2 victory in Spain thanks to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s hat-trick – the first ever Arsenal treble in the semi-final of a European competition.
Alexandre Lacazette grabbed the other goal as Unai Emery demonstrated his credentials in this competition once again.
Here are the winners and losers from the second leg.
Winner: The Aubameyang-Lacazette partnership
Traditional strike partnerships aren’t a common thing anymore. And in all honestly, Aubameyang and Lacazette aren’t a typical duo. Indeed, their strength lies in their similarities rather than their differences.
In the first half, both had completed two take-ons, more than any other player on the pitch. They worked incredibly hard to drop deep for the team, subsequently dribbling out of the Valencia press and creating chances for each other.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is the first Arsenal player to score a hat-trick in the semi-final of a European competition.
He makes a little bit of Arsenal history. 🔴 pic.twitter.com/oJAPffWq2O
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 9, 2019
And when those chances came, the strikers were clinical. Hat-trick hero Aubameyang took all three of his goals brilliantly, while Lacazette’s footwork to make a shooting opportunity for his goal was an underrated moment.
Arsenal fans will hope Aubameyang and Lacazette can continue their impressive partnership into the final. There was a time this season when Emery would start with one or the other, but there will be a riot if that happens in Baku.
Loser: Jose Gaya
Valencia left-back Jose Gaya has been linked with a move to multiple top six Premier League sides, and watching his attacking game it’s easy to see why. He’s a quick, inventive – he created two chances against Arsenal – and a good dribbler, managing to give Ainsley Maitland-Niles a difficult first half.
Tonight, however, wasn’t his night in most other areas. The Spaniard was booked for diving in the penalty area following a rather embarrassing moment in the first half, and he was caught way out of position for Arsenal’s third goal; Maitland-Niles did the exploiting this time.
Regardless of the above, it won’t be a surprise if Gaya is the subject of further transfer speculation this summer. The 23-year-old could improve defensively, but his other credentials are impressive. He’ll just hope scouts weren’t in attendance here.
Winner: The Premier League
The Champions League and Europa League finals will be exclusively made up of Premier League sides, a prospect nobody believed was possible at the beginning of the week. That’s mainly a result of the incredible Liverpool and Tottenham comebacks, but Arsenal (and Chelsea) deserve credit for their progress.
Valencia 2-4 (3-7) Arsenal FT:
Pass accuracy: 86%-76%
Chances created: 12-8
Arsenal reach the Europe League final after a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick. pic.twitter.com/kg3JgDTPLj
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) May 9, 2019
Inconsistent domestically to say the least, the Gunners have been ruthless in Europe thanks to the quality of the performances and Emery’s experience in the competition. Arsenal simply didn’t allow Valencia to take control, responding to the hosts’ goals with quick strikes of their own, and finally a knockout blow.
The Premier League can certainly be proud of their members, who have proven their eagerness to begin dominating European competition again.
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Loser: La Liga
Arsenal’s progress also marked the end of Spain’s stranglehold on the two major European competitions. The holders of the Champions League and the Europa League are from La Liga – Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – but a Spanish side will not win either competition this time around.
Liverpool’s extraordinary victory over Barcelona got the ball rolling for a resounding win in the background battle between England and Spain. Arsenal finished off the fight by convincingly striding past Valencia, putting the Premier League on top of the pile in Europe.
Winner: Kevin Gameiro
Kevin Gameiro has history with this competition, and with Emery. The striker has won the Europa League on four occasions, including three times under Emery at Sevilla. He scored in the final against Liverpool in 2016, and he was at it again here.
Having been left out of the team in the reverse fixture, Gameiro looked desperate to prove that decision was the wrong one from the off in the second leg. He took his goals clinically, taking his tally up to 11 goals in his last 12 Europa League home games.
The 32-year-old still has a couple of Europa League campaigns left in him, and he could finish his career as a cult hero in the competition. He is the first French player, and the ninth overall, to reach 25 Europa League goals.
Loser: The comeback narrative
Liverpool and Spurs performed miracles this week, which clearly gave Valencia the inspiration to do something similar. There was a sense of something special happening once again in the build-up to kick off. Were we about to witness yet another ridiculous comeback?
Goals, goals everywhere. 🤪 pic.twitter.com/TFM6YwCy0R
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 9, 2019
Sadly for that particular narrative, the quality of Arsenal made it impossible. Regardless, it was an interesting tie in which the sides shared 1o goals, but the Gunners were too good for Valencia, thwarting the chance of a comeback before it even started.
We’re unlikely to see a pair of Champions League semi-finals like this week’s ever again, and Arsenal proved that you can’t have more than two miracles in a week.