EUROPA LEAGUE: Arsenal 3-1 Valencia – Lacazette double helps down Valencia as Gunners take semi-final lead to the Mestalla
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Two goals from Alexandre Lacazette and an important late strike from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang saw Arsenal come from behind to beat Valencia 3-1 at the Emirates on Thursday night in the first-leg of the Europa League semi-final.
The Gunners needed a response after three consecutive defeats, but they made the worst possible start with 11 minutes played as Mouctar Diakhaby headed the opener for Los Ches, one that could prove to be a crucial away goal in the tie.
Unai Emery’s side – roared on by the home crowd – were soon level when Aubameyang set up Alexandre Lacazette for a tap in, before the striker got his second on 25 minutes, heading in Granit Xhaka’s cross.
In a second-half where Arsenal had the better chances, it was Aubameyang who took his, volleying home with 91 minutes played to grab what could prove to be an important goal going into the second-leg next Thursday.
The Spanish side should have taken the lead with just six minutes played at the Emirates when Rodrigo volleyed across the six-yard box for Ezequiel Garay, but the defender somehow cushioned his shot over the bar.
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Valencia started the brighter of the two sides and they took a deserved lead just 11 minutes in.
Arsenal’s defensive frailties reared their ugly head once again as a corner to the back post wasn’t dealt with, and when it came back across the goal, Diakhaby was there to nod home for a vital away goal.
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But Emery’s side fought back and found themselves on level terms just seven minutes later.
The pace of Aubameyang created the chance, with the forward racing into the area, cutting inside his man before calmly rolling the ball to strike partner Lacazette, who stroked the ball into the empty net with Neto off his line.
As expected, the home crowd was fired up with the final possibly just 180 minutes of football away, and they roared the Gunners forward.
Despite the early setback, the home side were ahead with 25 minutes on the clock as Lacazette drifted away from his marker to meet a Granit Xhaka cross.
The Frenchman kept his header down and Neto could only palm the effort against the post before the ball crossed the line, with the goal given despite a moment of uncertainty to put Arsenal 2-1 in front.
The visitors were looking dangerous on the break, but Arsenal were having the better chances with Aubameyang going closest before the break, volleying over from another Xhaka cross.
The opening 15 minutes of the second-half was one of few chances, with neither side able to carve out any real openings.
When one did come just after the hour mark, Lacazette should have wrapped up his hat-trick from Aubameyang’s cross, but he miscued his header from six yards with Valencia able to clear.
The Frenchman then missed a glorious chance just five minutes when Aubameyang found him again inside the box, but he shot straight at Neto from close range before Los Ches scrambled the ball away.
The Gunners were almost made to rue those missed chances on 73 minutes when substitute Kevin Gameiro was played through, but Petr Cech was off his line quickly to smother his goal bound shot.
Despite late Valencia pressure, Emery’s side held firm and with the clock ticking over into the 90th minute, Sead Kolasinac lifted a ball to Aubameyang at the back stick, with the Gabonese forward volleying past Neto to make it 3-1, sending Arsenal to the Mestalla next week in a strong position, although they will be wary of the Spanish sides away goal.