Arsenal 3-1 Valencia: Europa League semi-final, first leg – as it happened

A brace from Alexandre Lacazette and a late Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang volley gave Arsenal a 3-1 win over Valencia in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final

And with that, we’ll leave you for the evening. Thanks for reading, and don’t be sad: we will meet again soon, I am very sure.

Amy Lawrence was at the Emirates tonight, and here is her match report.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang speaks: “We started the game a bit nervous, because we lost the last three games. That’s normal, we are human, but after that we recovered well. We have a lot of qualities in this group [him, Ozil and Lacazette]. It’s our target to win this trophy because we can qualify for the Champions League.”

Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang applauds the fans after their 3-1 win.
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang applauds the fans after their 3-1 win. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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In the other game, Chelsea have drawn 1-1 with Eintracht Frankfurt and by all accounts did pretty well, after an opening salvo from the Germans. Ben Fisher was all over that one.

Can’t be overstated how important that third goal could be. Valencia weren’t brilliant after that opening 15 minutes but they could always be dangerous with an away goal and such a narrow deficit in the home leg. But with two goals, Arsenal will be rather more secure.

Full-time: Arsenal 3-1 Valencia

Peeeeeeeeep.

90 mins +4: Arsenal going for a fourth: Aubameyang speeds down the right but he’s tackled, the ball out for a corner.

90 mins +2: Arsenal needed that two goal cushion. Would have been nervy in Spain next week without it: actually, it will still be nervy, but less so now.

90 mins: Neto makes a brilliant save from a deflected Lacazette shot, it breaks out to Kolasinac who clips a delicate cross to the back stick, where Aubameyang makes room with some smart movement and volleys into the net.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal thumps in their third goal.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal thumps the ball goalwards ... Photograph: Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Getty Images
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scores his side’s third goal past Valencia’s goalkeeper Neto
Valencia’s goalkeeper Neto can’t stop it and Arsenal have a two goal cushion. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring their third goal.
Aubameyang celebrates with his trademark somersault. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA
Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring their third goal.
And a smile. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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GOAL! Arsenal 3-1 Valencia (Aubameyang 90)

Now THAT could be crucial.

88 mins: Change for Valencia, as Rodrigo is withdrawn and Sanit Mina is introduced.

87 mins: Xhaka shoots. Xhaka does not score. Let’s just leave it at that for now.

84 mins: Mkhitaryan cuts the ball back into the box, into the sort of area he probably expected there to be an Arsenal player, but there was no Arsenal player.

82 mins: Wass sneaks in behind the Arsenal defence, gets to the byline and cuts back to Gameiro, who tries to work himself some space, flicks it up but puts his volley well over the bar. Then a sub for Arsenal, as Koscielny hobbles off, to be replaced by Nacho Monreal.

79 mins: Gabriel is down after bashing knees with Mkhitaryan. Hopefully it’s just an impact injury, but his knee did bend in a direction that knees ideally aren’t supposed to bend. He limps off the field after his treatment, so he should probably be good to carry on.

78 mins: A potentially dangerous Valencia counter is cut off by some top notch defending by Torreira, swooping over from the middle to the left and dispossessing Gameiro.

76 mins: Kolasinac gets into the area from the left and sort of scoops it straight at Piccini from a few yards away. He claims handball, but that would have been harsh in the extreme.

75 mins: Parejo puts over a free-kick and Diakhaby finds himself in acres of space behind the defensive line, but there’s a good reason for that: he’s a yard offside. A change for Arsenal: Henrikh Mkhitaryan replaces Ozil, who has been OK this evening without being especially decisive.

73 mins: Gameiro is in straight away, catching Koscielny - who still looks in some distress - on his heels and nipping in behind the defence, but he tries a little clip over Cech which is saved by the goalie’s legs.

72 mins: Away from this game, Bolton’s takeover by Laurence Bassini is off, which leaves them...well, I’m not really sure where it leaves them.

70 mins: Double sub for Valencia: Kevin Gameiro replaces Guedes, while Soler comes off and Daniel Wass comes on. Meanwhile Parejo is booked for accidentally catching Lacazette on the side of the head with his arm. Seemed a touch harsh.

69 mins: Corner for Valencia, which is put right in the mixer. Diakhaby goes up with Cech, and doesn’t quite head the ball but does enough to put the keeper off, who palms it down and Mustafi has to hook clear.

67 mins: Two more chances for Lacazette! Golden ones! Big, shiny golden ones! The ball breaks to him in space, about eight yards out to the left, he tries to force it home at the near post but Neto saves with his legs, and then the rebound is smothered too. Arsenal should now really be way ahead.

Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal has his shot blocked by Norberto Murara Neto and Gabriel Paulista of Valencia
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal has his shot blocked by Norberto Murara Neto and Gabriel Paulista of Valencia Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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65 mins: Gabriel produces some of the old Gabriel magic we remember from his time at Arsenal, as he hoofs Lacazette up in the air from behind. Mystifyingly, he’s not booked.

63 mins: Oh! What a chance! Brilliant stuff by Aubameyang on the left side of the area, as he chips a ball into the middle, perfectly for Lacazette on the edge of the six yard box, but he completely misjudges the header and gets nothing on it. Maybe he thought the defender was going to get there first.

Alexandre Lacazette missed the ball as he goes for a header.
Alexandre Lacazette missed the ball as he goes for a header. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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62 mins: Xhaka, whose deliveries have been really good tonight, curls one into the area and Aubameyang winds up for a volley, but Gabriel gets some part of his body in the way and stops the shot before it begins.

61 mins: Arsenal aren’t quite at it in the second half so far. Which is probably why Torreira is on.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery urges his players forward as Sead Kolasinac carries the ball.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery urges his players forward as Sead Kolasinac carries the ball. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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58 mins: And there goes Guendouzi, replaced by Torreira.

57 mins: Guendouzi is about to be taken off apparently, but he tries to go out with a bang by curling a shot from the edge of the box into the top corner, but only succeeds in curling it into the chest of a defender.

55 mins: Brilliant defending from Koscielny, even better when you consider he’s limping quite heavily. Guedes plays the ball over the top and down the left for Rodrigo, and the former Bolton favourite is on his own but does well to hold it up until help arrives. That help is in fact Guedes again, sprinting into the box and goes for a diving header, but Koscielny is there just in front of him. Saved an almost certain goal, that.

54 mins: Parejo skims a nice ball over the top and down the right for Guedes to chase, and he’s shoved out of the way by Sokratis. Apparently not worthy of a free-kick though, which is pretty weird.

52 mins: Maitland-Niles and Guendouzi exchange passes, with the latter cutting back to the edge of the box but it’s cleared by Roncaglia.

49 mins: Rodrigo dinks his way past Sokratis, who lunged in rather too quickly, but his cross is cleared by Mustafi. After a corner, the ball breaks out to Soler who hits an absolute rasper of a first-time shot, but it’s blocked by Sokratis.

48 mins: To repeat a point made earlier, Arsenal could probably do with another couple of goals here: a bit of a cushion would be very handy given how diabolical they are on the road.

Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, centre, controls the ball between Valencia’s Gabriel, left, his teammate Mesut Ozil and Valencia’s Cristiano Piccini.
Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette, centre, controls the ball between Valencia’s Gabriel, left, his teammate Mesut Ozil and Valencia’s Cristiano Piccini. Photograph: Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP

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46 mins: We’re away. No substitutions from either side as yet.

The players are back out for the second-half. More of the same please.

Charles Antaki has a reference for the kids, here: “The Arsenal back four are servings up a fantastic treat of something that quite closely resembles football, with Shkodran Mustafi in customary starring role. Les Dawson used to have a skit in which he pretended to play the piano, but, after a bit of clumsy clonking, then revealed that he could actually play, and produced a lovely tune. That latter bit is perhaps yet to come in Arsenal’s case.”

There you go, then. Valencia were terrific for the first 15 minutes and should have been further than 1-0 ahead, but then Arsenal scored a couple of quickish goals and were in complete control by the end of the half. A very good game, mind.

Half-time: Arsenal 2-1 Valencia

Peeeeeeeeeeeeep.

45 mins: One minute of added time. Guedes goes down after clashing knees with Sokratis, but limps away without needing treatment.

44 mins: Kolasinac is getting plenty of the ball down that left flank. Again he has it and cuts back into the area, but Diakhaby is there to clear.

Sead Kolasinac of Arsenal gets ready to put in a cross.
Sead Kolasinac of Arsenal gets ready to put in a cross. Photograph: Joe Toth/BPI/Rex/Shutterstock

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42 mins: Aubameyang makes tracks cutting in from the left, then tucks it down the line for Kolasinac who makes a good run, but his cross is far too strong and drifts away.

39 mins: Lacazette decides that if Arsenal’s defenders aren’t going to defend, he’ll do it, as he charges back to tackle Soler just as he lines up a shot from range.

37 mins: “Valencia’s defence is so bad they’d take Mustafi back,” quips Matthew Stephens.

36 mins: ...Parejo lines up a shot from the free-kick, but let’s just say he’s not Leo Messi.

35 mins: Mustafi clumsily (no, really) takes out Parejo and Valencia have a free-kick about 30 yards out, to the left of centre...

33 mins: More terrible defending by Valencia as they stand off Xhaka for so long that he has plenty of time to pick out Aubameyang at the far post, who is rather obligingly completely unmarked, but he thumps his volley into the turf and it bounces over the bar.

32 mins: “Not sure if we’re watching the same game,” offers Filip Zec. “We know Arsenal’s defense lacks, hm, cohesion, but they’ve created chances. Valencia, on the other hand, have created nothing on their own and can thank Arsenal for their lone goal.”

Opinions, Saint, opinions.

31 mins: Diakhaby sticks his boot into Lacazette’s stomach, which you’re not allowed to do, and is thus booked.

30 mins: Marcelino, who has the look of a smooth, sophisticated older businessman who tries to steal the girlfriend of a film’s scruffy, broke but ultimately kind-hearted protagonist, does not look happy, and with good reason.

28 mins: Great fun this. Two teams that are absolutely mustard in attack but utterly useless in defence. More goals please, gentlemen.

26 mins: On the balance of play Valencia should probably be 3-0 up, and yet here they are, losing. Simple one this: Xhaka plays a lovely cross from outside the box on the left, Lacazette loses his marker and heads down powerfully. Neto gets a good hand to it, pushes the ball onto the post but can’t stop it crossing the line, confirmed as the ref’s watch buzzzzzzzes.

Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal scores his team’s second goal.
Alexandre Lacazette heads the ball into the ground ... Photograph: Justin Setterfield/Getty Images
Alexandre Lacazette of Arsenal scores his team’s second goal.
Which Neto pushed onto the post but then he can’t stop the ball from crossing the line. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his, and Arsenal’s, second goal in front of the happy Gooners.
Lacazette celebrates his, and Arsenal’s, second goal in front of the happy Gooners. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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GOAL! Arsenal 2-1 Valencia (Lacazette 26)

Football is weird.

24 mins: Valencia trying to reclaim a bit of control to this game. They ping a few passes around midfield, switching sides from left to right, but one goes astray and Kolasinac mops up.

21 mins: Diakhaby tries to extend a telescopic leg to hook the ball from Ozil, but only succeeds in hooking the German’s leg, and is penalised.

20 mins: Xhaka tries to shoulder barge Rodrigo, misses, falls over and wins a free-kick. Fair play to him.

18 mins: Marcelino should be furious that his side are level. Brilliant forward play by Arsenal though: Lacazette plays a delicious ball through to Aubameyang, he goes through and draws Neto out of his goal, then showing brilliant awareness checks back and plays it to Lacazette, steaming back in from deep, and he slides into an empty net.

Alexandre Lacazette slots the ball home to get Arsenal back on level terms.
Alexandre Lacazette slots the ball home to get Arsenal back on level terms. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images
Arsenal’s Alexandre Lacazette (left) celebrates scoring his side’s second goal of the game with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Matteo Guendouzi.
Lacazette (bottom) is congratulated by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Matteo Guendouzi. Photograph: Mike Egerton/PA

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GOAL! Arsenal 1-1 Valencia (Lacazette 18)

From absolutely nothing...

15 mins: Valencia look like they’re engaging in a giant rondo at the moment. And Arsenal nearly donate a second goal: Parejo shoots from range, Cech parries it but straight back into the area. Maitland-Niles tries to be smart by going down at shin height to head back to the keeper, doesn’t get enough on it and Gaya nips in but his effort loops over. At the moment Arsenal will be delighted they’re only losing 1-0.

13 mins: Arsenal nearly nip in for an equaliser straight away but Garay wasn’t having any of it. The home side in some strife here.

11 mins: Diakhaby has his revenge. Parejo skims a corner from the left to the back stick, Rodrigo nods it back across goal and Diakhaby, despite being ostensibly marked by three defenders, gets to the header before any of them and turns it home.

Mouctar Diakhaby of Valencia outjumps Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka of Arsenal as he scores his team’s first goal past Petr Cech.
Mouctar Diakhaby of Valencia outjumps Alexandre Lacazette and Granit Xhaka of Arsenal as he scores his team’s first goal past Petr Cech. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian
Mouctar Diakhaby of Valencia celebrates after opening the scoring.
Diakhaby celebrates after opening the scoring. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

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GOAL! Arsenal 0-1 Valencia (Diakhaby 11)

Too, too, too easy.

10 mins: A sick burn from Matthew Stephens: “After a promising start to his time at Arsenal Guendouzi is increasingly looking like the next Elneny.”

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9 mins: Actually, scratch that: it was an open goal. Huge let-off for Arsenal.

8 mins: Oh boy, Valencia should be ahead. Parejo clips the free-kick - central, about 40 yards out - to the left over the Arsenal defence, Rodrigo plays it back into the middle where Garay meets it, ahead of the Arsenal defence. It wasn’t quite an open goal but near enough, and he blazed it high into the North Bank. Eeeeesh.

Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay (second right) misses a chance to score.
Valencia’s Ezequiel Garay (second right) balloons the ball over the bar. Photograph: Paul Childs/Action Images via Reuters

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6 mins: Valencia are irked that they have been awarded a free-kick: Sokratis left a nasty one on Diakhaby, who is still in some distress, but the ball had run on to set up an attack. The referee pulled play back but bafflingly didn’t book the Arsenal defender, much to the chagrin of Diakhaby.

4 mins: Aubameyang tries a little flick down the line looking for the run of Kolasinac, but it’s overhit. Kudos for the ambition and intent, though.

3 mins: Maitland-Niles shows significant stones by bringing the ball down just outside the Arsenal box, two Valencia players right behind him, and he Cruyff turns right through the middle of them. Ice cold.

1 min: Arsenal on the attack straight away. Roncaglia plays with fire by giving Lacazette a little push in the penalty area, right in front of the extra official behind the goal, but it wasn’t quite enough to constitute a foul.

Arsenal will kick things off. They’re in their usual red jerseys with white sleeves, white knickerbockers and white stockings. Valencia are in blue with orange trim.

Sounds like the atmosphere is absolutely pulsing.

There are players in the tunnel. Football is about to occur.

Over in Frankfurt, fans are apparently ripping up seats so they can stand for the game. It sounds pretty lively, and bloody loud. Going to stick my neck out and say it’s not quite the same at the Emirates.

Eintracht Frankfurt fans remove seats from the stands.
Eintracht Frankfurt fans remove seats from the stands. Photograph: Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images,

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Playing at what appears to be right-back tonight is ex Arsenal favourite Gabriel Paulista, who Sid Lowe went to see this week and talked about tackling, Diego Costa and shaking with nerves before meeting Arsene Wenger.

As Amy mentions in that piece, these two have met before in European competition, most notably in the 1980 Cup Winners Cup final. Valencia. managed by Alfredo di Stefano, won that one on penalties, the first time a major European final had been decided by a shoot-out. Liam Brady missed with one of his last ever kicks in an Arsenal shirt (he departed for Juventus that summer), as did Graham Rix, despite Pat Jennings saving from Mario Kempes. Grim week all round really: four days earlier they had lost the FA Cup final to Second Division West Ham, and finished a slightly limp fourth in the league having looked pretty strong for much of the season.

Unai Emery has made talking while saying absolutely nothing into something of an art form, so Amy Lawrence steered broadly clear of his thoughts and focused on something more interesting in her preview for this one.

Unai Emery is not a man for harking back to the past – and it is not as if he has much time to given the mounting issues of the present – but the prospect of a Europa League tie against Valencia summons one of his most intense football memories.

Five years ago, as manager of Sevilla, he came up against his former team Valencia in the semi-finals. With a 2-0 home advantage from the first leg, his team crumbled at the Mestalla and gave up three goals. It was stoppage time. His team were going out. Valencia’s fans were overjoyed. Then, with one of those startling stings in a sporting tail, Stéphane Mbia headed in the goal that flung everybody’s emotions upside down. Sevilla were suddenly through on away goals and Emery lost himself in overwrought celebrations, charging on to the pitch and enacting a classic from the José Mourinho playbook.

Interesting starting XI for Arsenal, then. The omission of Torreira seems bold, particularly given he is apparently fit and Matteo Guendouzi hasn’t started much recently. That said, I always prefer the look of Arsenal with both Aubameyang and Lacazette up front: perhaps that is a sign that Emery is giving this one both barrels.

Team news

Arsenal

Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Mustafi; Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Ozil; Lacazette, Aubameyang. Subs: Leno, Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Iwobi, Monreal, Nketiah.

Valencia

Neto; Gabriel Paulista, Garay, Diakhaby, Roncaglia; Piccini, Soler, Parejo, Gaya; Rodrigo, Guedes. Subs: To follow...

Referee: Clement Turpin (Lyon)

Preamble

This has been, by any standard, a bit of a weird season for Arsenal. At various points it’s looked absolutely calamitous, not least now after three straight defeats to teams they would like to think they should beat. But despite all this they’re still two points off the top four and are here, now, in a Europa League semi-final. Given the honking hospital pass handed to Unai Emery, having to replace a legend with a squad you could probably best describe as ‘lop-sided’, that’s actually a pretty solid return.

Making it into that top four and beyond the semi-final though: then we’re getting into the realms of success. Success, despite significant flaws in the team that you suspect will take some time to correct.

Perhaps this season will (temporarily) redefine what Arsenal think of as success. They’re not used to being in this competition, having been Champions League regulars for so long, but winning it in such circumstances would be a pretty nifty achievement.

First, though, Valencia. Arsenal will need a win tonight, preferably a healthy one, to go into the second leg with any sort of confidence, given how woeful their away record is. Will that mean they’ll go for all-out attack from the off? We can but hope. Stay tuned.

Kick-off: 8pm BST