Always nice to wake up to a day in which your team has delivered a performance that sends you through to a cup final. But when the performance is of the requisite quality to ensure that you win a match by some distance, it’s all the more delicious. And that’s where we find ourselves today. We’re through to the Europa League final – sadly up against Chelski – and we did it in style scoring two goals over the two legs. Between Laca and Auba the goals were spread and I have to say the latter had his best performance in an Arsenal shirt, pressing, harrying, plus bagging a hat-trick and the match ball.
It really was his night and each of the goals he scored were what you get when you pay top dollar for world class finishers. At times this season it feels like he’s drifted through games but with 28 goals this season he’s shown just how deadly he is in front of goal and it’s no coincidence that he was once again key to us going through to that final.
It didn’t start great though. The team was pretty much as most of us had expected I think and I thought it was as strong a side as we could put out. No messing around or rotation, just the best XI players we have available right now. But Valencia started as you’d expect and when Gameiro scored on 11 minutes I’ll admit that I thought we were going to be in for a long old evening.
But credit where it is due Arsenal rallied and despite the noise in the Mestalla, we regained the advantage just six minutes later when Auba picked up his first. And to me this goal felt like it was a pivotal one. We knew we needed to scored and as soon as we scored so soon after their first goal I think it deflated them a little bit. They knew that we had two lethal strikers and they knew that one more goal, if they pushed too many men forward, if they got hit on the counter, that’d be it for them for the tie.
And so it was to be proved that way, because in to the second half Laca struck and I think they knew the second that ball hit the net on 50 minutes their season was effectively over. Away goals are a killer in knockout competition and when you get one to put you ahead on the night having protected a two goal advantage from the first leg, that was pretty much it. Their heads went down and our strikers profited, bagging the third on 69 and fifth on 88 for Aubameyang.
This was the kind of away performance we’ve been used to seeing Arsenal deliver domestically a few years back and for all of the gnashing of teeth that our away form has caused in the last two seasons, this felt like an old school Arsenal away day. Get a crucial goal, concede, but still with enough firepower to score four away from home.
There are plenty of questions about how Emery has managed the club domestically this season but you really can’t deny that he knows his onions when it comes to the Europa League. He’s delivered it for Sevilla and he could do the very same for us, although I think Chelski will be a massive hurdle to climb with Hazard in full flow. But Emery was clever last night in how he set his team up, he was clever in Naples and we’ve got our first European cup final since 2006. That just goes to show how rare it is and so from that perspective you have to give kudos to the manager and players for getting us there.
The season is still alive and I thought yesterday’s performance from the players – whilst not perfect – showed that they have some fight about them.
We march on to Baku. Except that so many of us won’t because of the quite frankly appalling allocation that the club has been given. As if it isn’t bad enough that the final is held in the far flung reaches of “Europe” for purely monetary reasons, that UEFA have seen fit to grant both Arsenal and Chelski just 12,000 tickets in a 68,000 seater stadium, the rest presumably going to the UEFA ‘family’ AKA corporate sponsors that they could eek a bit more cash out of. If you want an example of everything that is wrong with modern-day football commercialism it’s right there, because you can’t tell me the atmosphere in that stadium will be anywhere near as good as if they’d given both clubs 25 – 30,000 tickets each. It’s an utter disgrace but we all know that UEFA don’t care as long as their pockets are lined with silver.
Anyway, back tomorrow with some more ramblings no doubt.