EUROPA LEAGUE: Valencia 2-4 Arsenal (3-7 agg) - Aubameyang hat-trick fires Gunners to the final
PUBLISHED: 21:54 09 May 2019
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Arsenal reached the Europa League final after beating Valencia 4-2 at the Mestalla on Thursday night, 7-3 on aggregate, thanks to a superb hat-trick from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Los Ches started the better of the two sides, and they scored the opener just 11 minutes in when Kevin Gameiro slid home to give the Spanish side hope of progressing to the final.
That hope was soon quashed as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang volleyed a superb equaliser and a vital away goal for the Gunners on 17 minutes after great work by Alexandre Lacazette.
The Frenchman then made it 2-1 with 50 minutes on the clock to put Arsenal on course for the Europa League final, but Gameiro kept Valencia hopes alive when he bundled seven minutes later.
The Gunners then struck the killer blow with 69 minutes gone as Aubameyang tapped home his second of the night, with the Gabonese frontman smashing home with 88 minutes played to wrap up his hat-trick to send Unai Emery's men on their way to Baku, winning the tie 7-3 on aggregate
Roared on by their fanatical support at the Mestalla, the home side made a positive start as Goncalo Guedes went close, firing over from the edge of the box.
Arsenal's first chance came when Ainsley Maitland-Niles drove forward and hit a shot straight at Neto, but just seconds later, they found themselves behind.
Valencia broke forward and Rodrigo was found inside the area, with his cross-cum-shot taking a deflection off Laurent Koscielny before finding a sliding Gameiro who tucked the ball away to make it 1-0 and put real pressure on the visitors just 11 minutes in.
Emery's side were on the ropes, and Valencia nearly landed a knockout punch just three minutes later, but Gameiro turned villain this time as he inadvertently blocked Rodrigo's goal-bound shot.
They were made to pay on 17 minutes, as the Gunners' front two combined to devastating effect to score a crucial away goal in the tie.
A long ball downfield was won in the air by Aubameyang and then Lacazette, with the former latching onto the ball on the edge of the area and hitting a superb outside of the foot volley beyond Neto, silencing the cauldron that was the Mestalla.
That left Valencia needing to score three to reach the final, and Lacazette could have put Arsenal out of sight five minutes before after half-time when his curling shot grazed the outside of the post after Aubameyang's cut back.
The teams went in level at the break, but it was the away side who were well in control of the tie, and with five minutes gone in the second-half they scored the goal that all but sealed their spot in the final.
Aubameyang and Jose Gaya battled for the ball as the Gunners broke forward and the Arsenal man came out on top, finding Lucas Torreira who played a pinpoint pass into the feet of Lacazette.
The Frenchman dug the ball out, found a yard of space inside the area and whipped his effort into the far corner as every one of Emery's men - substitutes included - ran to celebrate the crucial strike.
Despite now needing four goals, Valencia weren't giving up the fight. They cut the deficit to three with 57 minutes gone when Gameiro again got in the way of a Rodrigo shot, with the ball this time trickling over the line to make it 2-2 on the night, 5-3 to the Gunners on the night.
But, Arsenal were fighting just that little bit harder, and struck a crushing blow with little more than 20 minutes remaining. Maitland-Niles did well to get past his marker, whipping a super cross into Aubameyang who threw himself at the ball to poke home
The club's record signing wasn't done their though, because with 88 minutes on the clock, he raced onto a through ball and smashed an effort past a helpless Neto, securing the North Londoners place in the Baku showpiece.