Arsenal aim to get back to winning ways and lend their focus on the Europa League, now that their chances of finishing in the Premier League top four look slim.
Arsenal returns to the Emirates to get their focus back on track when they host Valencia for the Europa League semi-final first leg. Just over a week ago when Arsenal beat Napoli at the San Paolo, they looked stronger than ever on both fronts, especially domestically where they were favourites to finish in the top four.
After three consecutive domestic losses, that prospect is now slim with the Europa League seemingly their only hope to qualify for next season’s Champions League. Arsenal also finished their Europa League campaign last season at the semi-finals stage where they lost to eventual winners, Atletico Madrid. They face another Spanish opponent this time in Valencia, as the Gunners will be hoping to put their torrid domestic form behind them.
Regardless of their current form, the Gunners are one of the favourites to win the Europa League this season. They have reached the semi-final after beating BATE, followed by Rennes and then Napoli in their knockout stages so far. Arsenal have won each of their three knockout games at home this season and will be hoping for a fourth win against Valencia.
Valencia too are on a bad run of form domestically. Los Che have lost their last two league games in a row, and much similar to Arsenal have slipped out of Champions League places on the La Liga table. Courtesy of back-to-back losses, they now sit sixth, with three points separating them from the top four. If things remain as they are, then Marcelino’s men would also need to win the Europa League to qualify for next season’s Champions League.
In the Europa League, Valencia’s manager Marcelino has a strong record going, having tasted defeat only once in 19 games. Valencia last played in a semifinal of a European competition back in 2013/14, in the Europa League, where they were beaten by Sevilla, then managed by current Arsenal boss Unai Emery. Los Che will be aiming to reach the final with a strong showing against the Gunners.
Team News & Tactics
Emery is expected to make multiple changes to the side that was humbled by Leicester over the weekend. There could be a change of personnel in defence, midfield, and attack, as Arsenal look to take advantage of the first leg at home. Many key players were missing for the Leicester game including Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil, who could be back for this clash.
Aaron Ramsey is a confirmed absentee and will miss the rest of the season. So could Denis Suarez whose troublesome groin will likely rule him out for the remainder of the season. In defence, Laurent Koscielny could be back in the lineup, thus ensuring Shkodran Mustafi is denied a reunion with his old club. Sokratis and Monreal could be his partners at the back.
Ozil’s return from a small injury could see him take his place in the side, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the likeliest candidate to make way. Emery could field the same midfield duo of Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira, although Matteo Guendouzi is also pushing for a start. Up front, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is battling for a starting spot with Alexandre Lacazette, although both strikers could play together.
Probable Lineup (3-4-1-2): Cech; Sokratis, Koscielny, Monreal; Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Ozil; Lacazette, Aubameyang
— Valencia CF English 🦇💯 (@valenciacf_en) May 1, 2019
Los Che have a few problems to deal with before their trip to London. Key duo Denis Cheryshev and Geoffery Kondogbia are significant doubts for the Arsenal game as they are not expected to recover in time from their respective injuries, despite being of a smaller nature. Additionally, former Arsenal midfielder, Francis Coquelin will not have a reunion as he is suspended for the first leg.
Carlos Soler might be placed for a midfield role alongside Dani Parejo. Marcelino is expected to go with a standard 4-4-2 formation with the likes of Ferran Torres and Goncalo Guedes providing with the width to their midfield. Rodrigo and Mina are expected to slot up front in striking roles, to unsettle Arsenal’s fragile looking defence.
Gabriel Paulista is set for a welcome at the Emirates, while he could partner Ezequiel Garay in central defence. Cristiano Piccini is back to full fitness and has travelled with the squad, but Daniel Wass is likely to keep the right-back slot for himself, while Jose Gaya is the man to take the left-back position. Neto will play in goal.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Neto; Wass, Garay, Paulista, Gaya; Torres, Parejo, Soler, Guedes; Rodrigo, Mina
- Arsenal have reached the semi-final stage of European competitions in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1993/94-1994/95 when they ultimately made the finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup two seasons running.
- This is Valencia’s first European semi-final appearance since 2013-14 when they reached the same stage of this competition before being eliminated by a Sevilla side that were managed by current Arsenal boss Unai Emery.
- Arsenal have faced Valencia on five previous occasions in all competitions, winning just once (D2 L2), in a Champions League quarter-final first leg in 2000-01 – Valencia eliminated them via away goals.
- Valencia have won two of their last three games against Arsenal (D1), winning last time out in the Champions League second group stage in 2002-03 at the Mestalla; however, they are winless in two away visits to Arsenal (D1 L1).
- Arsenal have kept nine clean sheets in their last 11 European games, conceding just four goals in total in that period.
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Aubameyang’s speciality is simple enough to understand; he scores goals, plenty of them. But Arsenal have faced a rather unusual drought on that front, with only three goals scored in as many previous games although the defence ended up conceding nine in that period. Aubameyang brings those crucial goals to the side, and Arsenal could certainly make do with some when they face Valencia.
At home, the Gabon striker has played admirably and has been a regular scorer this season. Arsenal missed his goalscoring prowess last season in the Europa League when he was ineligible, but it is time for him to show his real self and bring his team out of their slump. Aubameyang will be crucial to Arsenal’s chances against Valencia when the two sides play in the first leg tie tomorrow.
Arsenal 2-0 Valencia
Arsenal’s home form during this season’s Europa League campaign or otherwise has been fantastic, and Emery will be eager for his side to continue showing that. Arsenal’s acid test was considered to be their tie with Napoli, which they passed with flying colours, and there should be no problem in overseeing Valencia, especially at home.
The Europa League is now a necessary trophy for Emery, as this looks like the only viable route for Arsenal to play Champions League football next season. Emery will be hoping for a response, and its not been in Arsenal’s character to lose four games in a row, so they are expected to win this one against Valencia by a comfortable margin.