Arsenal’s Road To Baku
Arsenal faced Chelsea in the all English Europa League Final this year. Chelsea had already qualified for the Champions League whereas Arsenal hadn’t. Emery’s side needed to win the game in order to play Champions League football next season. This was Emery’s fourth Europa League final having already won three with Sevilla.
In Arsenals group were Vorskla, a team from Ukraine that qualified for the Europa League by finishing third in the Ukrainian Premier League. Qarabag also faced them in the group stages having won the Azerbaijan Premier League. The final team in the group was Sporting Lisbon. The Portuguese side came third in their respective league.
Arsenal got off to a fantastic start in the groups winning all of their first three games which included away trips to Qarabag and Sporting Lisbon. Unless they were to go and lose their remaining three games it was highly unlikely they wouldn’t make it out the groups. When Arsenal hosted Lisbon though they drew 0-0 in a tight game. However, Emery’s side did end the groups on a positive note winning their final two matches and finishing top.
It was a very positive group stage for Arsenal as they only conceded two goals throughout. They won five and drew one of their games meaning they also went unbeaten. It was good for their younger players who managed to get game time, with players such as Nketiah and Willock featuring towards the end.
In the round of 32 Arsenal drew BATE Borisov and were away first leg. BATE managed to get a shock 1-0 win in the first leg. Even though Arsenal didn’t manage an away goal they were still favourites to go through. In the second leg, Arsenal won 3-0 and went through to face Rennes in the round of 16.
Again they were away first leg and again lost. Rennes beat them 3-1 and this time it was going to be much more difficult to get through. But thanks to goals from Aubameyang and Maitland-Niles they won 3-0 and 4-3 on aggregate.
Napoli were the opponents in the quarter-finals, a round where many felt Arsenal could get knocked out. A first leg 2-0 home win set Arsenal on their way and in Napoli, a goal from Lacazette ensured the tie was over and Arsenal would win 3-0.
The semi-finals saw Emery face one of his old sides Valencia. Arsenal won the first leg 3-1 and had one foot in the final. In the second leg, it was an Aubameyang masterclass that ensured there was no way back for Valencia. A hat trick from the striker and Arsenal were on their way to Baku after a 7-3 win on aggregate.
Chelsea would be Arsenal opponents in the final. Both sides had already beaten each other in the league this season so it was going to be a tight game. Arsenal were looking to win their first Europa League and Emery’s first, whilst Chelsea had already won one in 2012/13. Arsenal were the better side in the first half but didn’t take their chances. Lacazette had a claim for a penalty and Xhaka hit the bar.
Chelsea came out a different side in the second half and scored in the 48th minute through ex-Arsenal striker Giroud. Pedro doubled the lead on the 59th minute and then Hazard scored a penalty five minutes later. Iwobi gave Arsenal some hope with a brilliant half volley from outside the box. But Hazards second goal, and Chelseas fourth in the match, made sure this was going to be Sarri’s first ever trophy.
It was a disappointing end to what was a brilliant Europa League campaign for the Gunners. They went unbeaten in the groups, turned over two first leg losses and also beat Napoli and Valencia convincingly. But it seemed the final was one step too far and now Emery’s must improve the squad over the summer ready for next season.
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