Aubameyang hat-trick sends Arsenal past Valencia into Europa League final

The madness came to an end at Mestalla, where Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette imposed order and carried Arsenal to the final of the competition that their manager has made his own. Few have embraced the Europa League like Unai Emery, who insisted it is a title, not merely a ticket to a competition in which his two strikers really should play – and one to which they may now return. Here, again, they were a level above the rest, ensuring that a week of extraordinary European emotion, of barely believable events, drama to the last, did not extend into a third day. At least not here.

Instead, this was three men doing what they have done so often. Three goals from Aubameyang and one from Lacazette, who between them have 10 of Arsenal’s past 13 Europa League strikes, mean that Arsenal will be in Baku, 4230km from here. They also mean Emery will be in another final: this was his 19th consecutive Europa League tie without elimination. He talked of the importance of Arsenal trying to win a third European title in their history; if they do, he will win his fourth.

Emery had not been knocked out since a semi-final at this same ground in 2012. He had been back and beaten Valencia in another semi-final here with Sevilla in 2014, his effusive celebrations upon a dramatic last-second goal earning him their animosity.

Now, he has done it again, the home fans’ early hope evaporating, dreams of another astonishing comeback gone.

“Yes, we can!” Valencia’s fans chanted at the beginning and they quickly believed they could too, opening the scoring after just 11 minutes.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles shot but Neto saved and suddenly the Arsenal wing-back was running the other way, destined never to catch up. The goalkeeper began the move, Dani Parejo continued it and then came Rodrigo, who looked for Gonçalo Guedes dashing into the space left by Maitland-Niles. Rodrigo overlapped, and it was his ball across the face of the six-yard box that Kevin Gameiro turned in at the far post.

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Mestalla exploded; it seemed reasonable to wonder if Arsenal, under pressure, might implode. Not least as that wing, where Guedes flew and Rodrigo bent his runs to head out there and join in, was a motorway along which they picked up speed, Guedes having put another effort over the bar. Now the momentum really was theirs – Rodrigo’s shot was accidentally blocked by Gameiro. Soon, Rodrigo was there again, controlling Daniel Wass’s pass on the chest and flashing his shot just past the post.

This, it seemed, was on. Only, almost immediately, it was off again, as the equaliser was a thing of startling simplicity, borne of a long, long goalkick from Petr Cech. Gabriel Paulista leapt to reach it but headed it straight up in the air. When, at last, it came back down, Lacazette jumped with him and headed it beyond Gabriel and Ezequiel Garay. It sat up just outside the area and Aubameyang hit it superbly with the outside of his boot into the corner for his 27th of the season. Two more would follow. The goal was a warning of how fast things can change, and how little these two need to decide a game.

Arsenal settled now, the goal giving them security. If the threat never entirely went away, Parejo bending a free-kick just past the post, Arsenal began to take a degree of control. Every time Aubameyang was in possession, his opponents backtracked. It didn’t help them. What a threat he is. And if he should have done better with one shot just after the half-hour, he then brilliantly set up Lacazette, whose first-time effort raced past the post, taking a layer of paint with it.

The next time the ball came to Lacazette, it ended the other side of the post and the tie effectively ended too. Again, Aubameyang ran. José Gayà went with him, matched him for speed and made the challenge too but the ball escaped and Aubameyang accelerated again.

It broke to Lucas Torreira whose crisp pass reached Lacazette inside the area. The feet were fast, the turn faster, and the shot zipped into the net. This was done: Valencia got one back when Parejo and Wass created and Gameiro scrambled Rodrigo’s shot past Cech eight minutes later, but they still needed three more.

Although Garay’s long-range shot flew just past the post and Valencia started to turn the screw, time was not on their side, and it was Arsenal who struck. Aubameyang again. Of course. He wasn’t even finished, either. There was still time for one more at the end. A wonderful shot, rising into the net for the hat-trick and a place in the final. There was applause now, appreciation from Mestalla. Their journey is over. Arsenal’s has one more stop.