Arsenal’s place in next season’s Champions League now solely resides on winning the Europa League as they take on Valencia in the semi-final second leg.
Arsenal’s top four hopes ended with a disappointing draw against Brighton & Hove Albion at home. The result meant Arsenal will no longer be able to finish among the Champions League places when the season ends, meaning their hopes for entry into Europe’s top competition relies on winning the Europa League this season.
The Gunners, however, can take confidence into the second leg tie with Valencia after convincingly beating the La Liga side 3-1 at home. A brace from Alexandre Lacazette and a late strike from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gave Arsenal the advantage, although the one goal scored by Valencia has surely given them some hope heading into this tie.
Valencia, unlike Arsenal, are still in the hunt to finish within Champions League places through their league finish. Additionally, they are still not out of the running to reach the Europa League final, although to achieve both they need to finish strongly in the next three games, starting with the one against Arsenal at the Mestalla.
Domestically they suffered a set back-to-back defeats to Atletico Madrid and Eibar before they faced Arsenal at the Emirates. However, in the last matchday, they secured a thumping 6-2 victory over Huesca at home. They can take confidence from the way they have replied to their first loss to Arsenal and can now believe they could achieve the difficult task of making a comeback in the second leg.
Team News & Tactics
Valencia manager Marcelino will likely make minimal changes to his side that thrashed Huesca at the weekend. Minimal changes could point at a possible back four for the home side, with the likes of Gabriel Paulista and Ezequiel Garay marshalling the center of defence, meaning first leg goalscorer, Mouctar Diakhaby will have to contend with a bench role. Cristiano Piccini and Jose Gaya will act as the full-backs.
There could be a return to the starting lineup for former Arsenal midfielder, Francis Coquelin who missed the previous leg due to suspension. Coquelin’s availability gives Marcelino more options to play with, and the Frenchman could partner Dani Parejo in the center of the park.
Goncalo Guedes could move to a wide position to accommodate the returning Santi Mina up front, while Carlos Soler, who played in central midfield in the last leg could take his wide position as well. Mina will likely be joined by Rodrigo Moreno in a central striking pairing against Arsenal.
Probable Lineup (4-4-2): Neto; Piccini, Gabriel, Garay, Gaya; Soler, Coquelin, Parejo, Guedes; Rodrigo, Mina
Unai Emery will be happy to have Laurent Koscielny back in the starting lineup after the Gunners captain missed the Brighton game with a knock sustained against Valencia the last time out. Koscielny is likely to replace Nacho Monreal in the center of defence. Emery will continue to deploy three at the back with Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis the players to partner Koscielny there.
Lucas Torreira is fit and available after he started the 1-1 draw with Brighton. Emery played Matteo Guendouzi with Granit Xhaka in the first leg and might continue with that pair and keep Torreira on the bench. Mohamed Elneny is also an option for midfield, but the Egyptian has rarely played under Emery this season, so it is unlikely he will be involved.
Emery has to decide on who he would play in his attacking lineup. The likes of Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are pushing for a start, and the pair or at least one of them have been preferred during away games with Mesut Ozil likely to be relegated to the bench. In the case that Iwobi and Mkhitaryan do start, then one of Aubameyang or Lacazette might be on the bench.
Considering both of Arsenal’s strikers scored in the last leg, Emery might opt to start both in the away leg and keep one of Iwobi or Mkhitaryan on the bench, and it looks like it could be the Armenian who is better placed to start.
Probable Lineup (3-4-3): Cech; Mustafi, Sokratis, Koscielny; Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Kolasinac; Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, Aubameyang
- Five of the previous 28 teams to lose the first leg of a UEFA Cup/Europa League semi-final by 2+ goals have ended up progressing, most recently Espanyol against Club Brugge in 1987-88.
- Arsenal have never been knocked out of a European tie in which they won the first leg by two or more goals, progressing from all 27 previously.
- Valencia are looking to reach their first major European final since the 2004 UEFA Cup when they beat Marseille 2-0 under Rafael Benitez.
- Arsenal have lost their last four away games against Spanish opponents, and are winless in their last seven such games (D2 L5) since a 1-0 win at Real Madrid in February 2006.
- Valencia have lost just one of their last 21 home games in all competitions (W15 D5), though it was their last such game against Eibar in La Liga (0-1).
Player to Watch
The Frenchman has been finding his form once more and at a very crucial point of Arsenal’s season, and his recent goals, especially the brace against Valencia was very much essential to his team’s cause. In the league, the disappointing team performances have let Lacazette’ contributions down, but he could prove his worth yet again when Arsenal travel to Valencia.
Lacazette, alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, needs to re-focus his game on the Europa League as it is the only way Arsenal can get into next season’s Champions League. Lacazette’s importance has been amplified in recent Arsenal performances and he needs to be the man to lead the side from the front and is crucial to any chance they might have in triumphing in the Europa League.
Valencia 2-1 Arsenal
Arsenal’s dismal away for should not come as a surprise for the North Londoners have been struggling on the road for quite a few seasons now and this season, especially domestically they have hit new lows. The away win at Napoli should not mask their problems on the road as BATE and Rennes exposed them in recent games.
Valencia, on the other hand, can finish their season on a high note, especially with a comeback win over Arsenal. Los Che are expected to collect a victory when Arsenal visit them, but they might just fall short of qualifying for the final. Emery is an expert when it comes to knockout games, and he will show his power once more, despite the general fear that Arsenal might lose yet another away game.