EUROPA LEAGUE Arsenal v Valencia: Spanish football expert David Cartlidge gives his insight on the Gunners’ semi-final opponents
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Arsenal face Valencia in the first-leg of the Europa League semi-final on Thursday night. Islington Gazette sports reporter Dan Mountney spoke to David Cartlidge, Spanish football expert for ESPN, who gave his insight into the Spanish side.
DM: What has Valencia’s La Liga season been like?
DC: “It has been very mixed. They started out in terrible fashion for a variety of reasons.
“Above all, they were hit hard by injuries and had players out of form who were slow to regain their levels of the previous season.
“You can also add in Marcelino’s overly negative approach. I think he saw the club were in a vulnerable position, so he decided to cut back on the risks.”
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DM: What is Marcelino like as a coach. What system and style does he prefer?
DC: “Marcelino’s a quite defensive minded coach that likes his players to break quickly on the counter attack.
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“He’s comfortable with his teams having time without the ball, given he prides himself on solidity and organisation.
“He’s always favoured a 4-4-2 system and it would be a surprise if he deviated from that, though he has put out a 4-3-3 on the rare occasion.”
DM: Who are Valencia’s key players and who should Arsenal keep an eye on?
DC: “Firstly, Goncalo Guedes. The Portuguese attacker is in outstanding form at the moment and is undoubtedly the danger man. He’s quick, skilful and explodes in the final third to devastating effect.
“Secondly, captain Dani Parejo. He’s the heartbeat of the team and will be vital to Valencia gaining a foothold in the tie. Arsenal’s defensive midfield will need to press him and make sure he doesn’t get comfortable.
“Lastly, Ezequiel Garay. He’s not the quickest by any means, but in a purely positional sense he’s outstanding. He’s an experienced player and when he’s at the back everyone raises their game automatically.”
DM: What weaknesses do Valencia have that Arsenal can expose?
DC: “I’d probably say their right-back position.
“They’ve been using Daniel Wass there for much of the season and it’s not a natural role for him. He sometimes doesn’t get enough support and can be exposed quite easily.
“Arsenal pushing attacks down their own left flank would be a way to get at them.”
DM: Arsenal boss Unai Emery used to be Valencia coach. What are the feelings towards him from his time in charge?
DC: “Largely negative. There was a feeling he made the same mistakes time and time again there.
“Then he went to Sevilla, a rival, and had success.
“Valencia fans were exhausted by Emery throughout his time there, and while his league finishes appeared impressive, look deeper into things and you see that he had stagnated long before he left.”
DM: What kind of atmosphere can Arsenal expect when they visit the Mestalla in the second-leg?
DC: “A very loud one. The Mestalla is an old, crumbling stadium, but the build of it means that noise generates around it in a magnificent fashion.
“The CN10 are their main fan group, located behind the goal, and it’s a largely youthful group that is extremely vocal.
“If you’re an Arsenal fan travelling, you’re in luck. Valencia is a fantastic city with a great climate and plenty to do.”