Arsenal (2) 3 València (1) 1
UEFA Europa League, Semi-Final First Leg
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 2nd May 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles; Guendouzi, Xhaka; Kolašinac, Özil, Aubameyang; Lacazette.
Substitutes: Elneny, Leno, Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Iwobi, Monreal, Nketiah.
Scorers: Lacazette (2), Aubameyang
Referee: Clément Turpin (France)
Attendance: circa 60,000
If Arsenal can get anything out of this excellent victory here at The Emirates tonight, it would be a collective sigh of relief, followed by a sense of a job well done in this competition, this, the only chance of silverware for us this season. There were times in the match when we were extremely profligate, yet other times when we looked completely in control. Soon after the start, València showed their intent in earnest. The miss by Ezequiel Garay should have been a warning to us, but we failed to heed it; after just eleven minutes Mouctar Diakhaby scored the opening goal with a strong header in our six-yard box which was just the lift that the visitors needed.
Alexandre Lacazette saved our blushes half a dozen minutes later with an absolutely superb goal which showed his class and professionalism. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did the hard work in the box, drawing defenders to him; the visitors didn’t see the danger from Alexandre Lacazette initially, but my word, they certainly did when, just seconds later they were picking the ball out of the net after the equaliser had been scored. Arsenal now saw an opportunity to impose their will (and their type of football) on the match. Our two bandits were constantly penetrating the visitors’ defence, and by half -an-hour on the clock, we were in the lead, with yet another well-taken goal by Alexandre Lacazette. A well-delivered cross by Granit Xhaka found our striker, and as he headed the ball down, València ’keeper Murara Neto could only attempt to try to prevent the ball from crossing over the line by hauling it out at the last minute; thankfully the man in the middle with the vibrating watch knew the truth and gave the goal. Until the break, Arsenal were dominant. Time and time again we penetrated the València defence, but to no avail; it looked fairly obvious that the visitors were mightily relieved when the half-time whistle finally came.
Everyone in the Arsenal camp in the stadium were looking forward to the restart, and the thrill that it may bring. Not so. The visitors appeared to have other ideas and were knocking on the door of a possible draw here. Somehow our defence held firm, and in doing so earned the respect of the Arsenal supporters. Laurent Koscielny, despite carrying an injury, time and time again threw himself into the fray, halting dangerous attacks by the visitors; Sokratis showed both his strength, and positional sense, to halt further València goals, and young Ainsley Maitland-Niles, despite his earlier heart-stopping moment in the first half with the headed back pass that never was, composed himself and showed everyone the footballer that we all know that he can be. To be fair, Alexandre Lacazette should have got his hat-trick, but a series of calamitous shots and half-hearted chances meant that it really didn’t happen. But what did happen, was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s coup de grâce in injury time. After some dilly-dallying on the edge of the penalty area, Sead Kolašinac finally got an awkward ball across for the Gabon international to score the third and final goal from an acute angle.
At last. Not only a win, but an extremely important win at that. Of course we are not in the final just yet, but this victory certainly has gone a long, long way into not only getting us into our first European final in a quarter of a century, but also a massive confidence boost for an otherwise much maligned squad of very good footballers who now need every bit of support they can get in the final weeks of this troubled season. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.