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Arsenal’s Road To Baku


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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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Lacazette on Fire as Arsenal Ease Past Valencia

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In cup competitions like these, domestic league form is thrown out the window and what matters is the performance for 90 minutes on a cold European night. Following the capitulations in the Premier League in recent weeks, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes are on a thin thread following four defeats in their last five League games but with a good aggregate result against Valencia, Unai Emery’s men would be on their way to Baku, Azeibaijan, without Henrikh Mkhitaryan of course, to play the winner between Eintrancht Frankfurt and fellow Premier League rivals, Chelsea.

As expected, Emery went with a strong lineup in what we should consider his favored formation, 3-4-1-2, but it was the visiting side that began brightly with Rodrigo squaring the ball into the Arsenal danger area and it was lofted to Row Z by Ezequiel Garay from just six yards out. The writing was on the wall for the Gunners to step up their game but the fan’s despair turned into anguish when Diakhaby rose ahead of three players, yes, three players to head Rodrigo’s flick home. This wasn’t the best way to start the game but it was just 11 minutes and there was a whole lot of football to be played.

The Gunners found their equalizer when Arsenal’s fantastic attacking duo connected yet again. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang dragged the goalie and defender along before dropping the ball on a platter for his partner, Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman guided the ball to an unguarded net and levelled the contest. Lacazette doubled his money when he reacted first to a Granit Xhaka dinked effort to head the ball on the ground. As you’d expect, the bounce confused the goalie and he managed to make a save, but Goal Line Technology came to Arsenal’s rescue and they were ahead. Lacazette actually had two more chances to put the game beyond doubt and I was shocked to see him miss both – the first was a totally missed header from six yards following some good work from Aubameyang and the second was a horrible double miss with just the goalie to beat.

Football can be cruel in situations like this when you don’t take your chances and Kevin Gameiro almost punished the Gunners when he was clean through on goal, but Petr Cech did very well to make a good block. The Gunners ended the game on a high when Sead Kolasinac made one of his marauding runs on the left flank and swung a cross that was sidefooted home by Aubameyang, to give the Gunners some cushion ahead of the crucial second leg at Mestalla.

It’s evident that this 3-4-1-2 formation is Emery’s best, as it clearly brings out the best in Lacazette and Aubameyang, and it should give the manager a good platform for next season to work with. This formation has seen us win some big games this season and it can only work when we have our best players available for selection.

All focus will go to Brighton this weekend, before the business of finishing the contest against Valencia next week Thursday.


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Valencia Preview and Thoughts on Arsenal’s Top Four Ambitions

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It’s been like a ghost town here and like Arsenal, blogging consistency has become a problem for me. I really thought it was a North London thing, as those cocking cockerels bottled it in their new stadium against Ajax, but it seems like the shortcomings of the team affects some fans in more ways than one.

Enough about their squabbles, and let’s focus on why we are here – Europa League semis with the only hope of silverware just three games away, if you catch my drift. We were at this same stage in Arsene Wenger’s final season but Atletico Madrid and their annoyingly amazing goalie, Jan Oblak, ensured that we crashed at this hurdle. It was really painful bearing in mind that we didn’t lose in both legs, but that Antoine Griezmann away goal, no thanks to Laurent Koscielny of course, proved to be the nail in our final coffin. We are here again with a seasoned Europa League specialist, Unai Emery, that famously won this competition three times in a row with Sevilla, but if recent form is anything to come by, I wouldn’t raise my hopes so much.

I vividly remember watching us run Manchester United over the park at our own backyard and I thought that we had enough in the tank to secure a top four finish, and even though I was scared about our wretched away form, I still harbored some hope that we could pick up the points required to bring us closer to Champions League football. My dreams don’t look like coming through unless some monumental cock up happens with our west London neighbors, Chelsea. It’s also disheartening to know that the Europa League also offers them a chance at UCL football, just like us, so it’s clearly down to who wants it most.

It hasn’t really boded well for English teams in the Champions League semis with both Tottenham and Liverpool disgraced in their games against Ajax and the mighty Messilona. Arsenal host Valencia tonight with a chance to put themselves in a strong position for the second leg in Mestalla next week.

To team selection, I would expect Petr Cech to play ahead of Bernd Leno, as he’s the usual Europa League goalie, and with Emery getting some success with his 3-4-1-2 setup, I would be surprised to see his best three center backs, Skhodran Mustafi Laurent Koscielny, Skhodran Mustafi Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Skhodran Mustafi Nacho Monreal as the starting back three, flanked by Sead Kolasinac and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. There will certainly be no Aaron Ramsey for the rest of the season, and he went to Instagram to issue an emotional goodwill message to the fans. Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka will play behind Mesut Ozil, who will provide the ammunition for the deadly striking duo, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Valencia will certainly be no pushovers, but like Arsenal, they are not in good form with back to back losses in La Liga against Atletico Madrid and SD Eibar, dropping to sixth place on the Liga Santander. The Eibar game was quite interesting, as the twelfth placed side ran the show in Mestalla, having more attempted shots and shots on target in the game, earning themselves a good 1-0 win. The Gunners will still need to be careful about the threat Rodrigo and the experienced journeyman, Kevin Gameiro, could pose.

Here’s to a good game of football and more consistency from me (I hope).


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