Read Sid Lowe’s match report:
Petr Cech speaks, and speaks well
With Chelsea and Eintracht Frankfurt still deadlocked, the goalkeeper is asked who he would like to meet in the final. “I have no preference. The team who manges to go to the final deserves to go there … but I think it would be a remarkable end to my career if I were to play a European final against Chelsea.”
He is also asked whether he is not retiring too early, at the age of 37. “I feel like maybe I could play another two years … but I prefer to retire two years too early than one year too late. I want to retire on my own terms. My last dream was to play a final with the Arsenal, now I have to win it.”
As for the final, he says: “The key is to play your game. People think ‘oh, we’re in a final, we have to do something special.” No, you keep calm, be brave and play your best game.”
I should mention that there was a little kerfuffle on the pitch at the final whistle, with players of both sides pushing and shoving and probably swearing in baroque fashion. I didn’t see who started it, nor did I notice any punches or kicks so, on second thoughts, it wasn’t worth mentioning.
Aubameyang and Lacazette share their thoughts
Aubameyang: “It means a lot. We learned from last season. This year we didn’t make the same mistakes. Now we’re off to the final and we’re all happy.
Lacazette: “We reaacted well (to conceding). We knew we had to score a minimum of one goal today. Thanks to Auba for the hat-trick, hewas unbelievable today.”
Aubameyang: “We enjoy a lot playing together. It’s a pleasure to play with him in this team.”
Lacazette: “We want to go to the champions League and we want a trophy. We have played badly in the last month in the Premier League so we have to be better now. We have to win the final.”
“Winning things is fun, especially trophies,” confirms Kari Tulinius. “I’ll take silverware over Champions League qualification any day of the week, though I suppose in this case it doesn’t hurt that the trophy comes with a ticket t the Big Cup. Winning the Europa League should put Emery in the good books of even the most skeptical Arsenal fan.”
Full-time: Valencia 2-4 Arsenal (agg: 3-7)
Arsenal have swaggered into the Europa League final! For nearly 20 minutes things looked a little ropey for them here, but once Aubameyang struck a wonderful equaliser, they were the better team and produced an uncharacteristically accomplished away performance from a side who have been rotten on the road in the Premier League. Their attacking duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette were sensational, especially the Gabonese, who plundered a masterful hat-trick to crown a fine individual and collective performance.
GOAL! Valencia 2-4 Arsenal (agg: 3-7) (Aubameyang 89)
Bang! What a marvellous way to complete a hat-trick! Aubameyang exchanged a one-two with Guendouzi to the right of the box, then let another pass from Gunedouzi run through his legs to Mkhitaryan, who watched the Gabonese’s run and played the ball back into his path, allowing him to rifle a shot into the roof of the net from a tight angle seven yards out! Aubameyang has been wonderful today and Arsenal are heading to the final with a swagger!
86 min: So then, Unai Emery is leading Arsenal to a European final in his first season in charge, and possibly back into the Champions League. How about that, Gooners? The club’s only two previous European triumphs were in competitions that are now defunct. What better way to signal the start of a bright new era than lifting a trophy that actually exists?
84 min: Mkhitaryan skitters down the right after intercepting a pass. Then he tries to pick out Aubameyang at he back post but it’s diverted behind for a corner.
82 min: Gaya tries a pot shot from 20 yards, missing the far post by three. “Reading ‘The Joy is Tainted’ headline in today’s Guardian: the fans are absolutely right. The final venue should be chosen once the finalists are known,” writes Paul Bacon. “ It’s going to be even worse for Arsenal and Chelsea or Frankfurt having to travel close to 5,000 miles (a tad less for Frankfurt) round trip for a football match. There are plenty of neutral stadiums close enough that overnight travel and it’s expense can even be avoided.” I sure sympathise, but the only problem with that is it would mean virtually all finals would be in western Europe, since that’s where most of the rich clubs are. That wouldn’t be fair. Having said that, there’s a big part of me that would like the finals to be two-legged affairs like the rest of the knockout stages, and with the away goal rule. But no matter the venue, ticket prices should definitely be more affordable.
78 min: Koscielny blocks a shot by Parejo from the edge of the box. “Adios, adios, adios!” sing the Arsenal fans as more of the home crowd slip away into the night.
76 min: “A quote on the family group message ‘Even Arsenal can’t lose this now’,” reports Peter Tuhill. “Then Mustafi comes on and everybody collectively groans and says ‘maybe we can’.” And right on cue, Mustafi gets his head to a dangerous cross to make a good clearance. Book them tickets to Azerbaijan!
75 min: Soler gets in behind Monreal down the right and lashes in a decent low cross. Sokratis slides in to clear at the near post.
73 min: Some home fans are filing out of the stadium. The ladies and gentlemen in in the away end meanwhile, are having a fiesta. “What a week it has been for young English full-backs,” yelps Alex Whitney. “That assist from Maitland-Niles was brilliant!” It sure was, and full-back isn’t even his best position! He’s just doing a job for his team very well.
GOAL! Valencia 2-3 Arsenal (agg: 3-6) (Aubameyang 69)
A super goal that surely settles this! Maitland-Niles, tormented for much of the first half, does superbly down the right, outskilling a defender before pinging in a lovely low cross Aubameyang is first to the ball at the near post and turns it into the net!
66 min: Valencia have corralled Arsenal into their own box. Problem is, that means they have to pick a way through a slew of bodies. They’re trying and trying but Arsenal are holding firm …
64 min: Gameiro skins Kolasinacdown the right and then hangs up a cross to the back post. Arsenal scramble it away but Valencia soon regain possession. Garay has a blast from long-range … it zooms inches wide, past a full-length dive by Cech. “I‘m at the amazing Four Tet show at Ally Pally whilst following the commentary,” brags Charles Waddell. “An assault on the senses
Arsenal substitution: Mkhitaryan on, Ozil off. The German looks well peeved at that decision and he riles the home crowd by putting his finger to his lips in a “sssh” gesture as they whistle at him for walking off too slowly. In terms of his performance, he was a calming prober with the ball, as ever, but not particularly effective without it. You’ve heard that story before.
60 min: Soler clips in a cross from the right as Valencia pile on the pressure. Koscielny heads it away.
58 min: That was a lovely goal, in fairness. Parejo split Arsenal open with a cute low pass between Kscileny and Maitland-Niles. Wass ran on to it before cutting back to Rodrigo, who’s shot from 15 yards was deflected into the path of Gameiro, who bundled into the net from close range. Valencia need just the three more goals …
GOAL! Valencia 2-2 Arsenal (Agg: 3-5) (Gameiro 58)
That comeback isn’t on, is it?
56 min: That’s better from Valencia. They launch a snappy attack down the left but Gaya’s cross is well blocked by Sokratis.
53 min: Guedes rams a low shot wide of the near post from 20 yards. It was a token effort, in truth. Valencia don’t look like a team who believe there’s going to be another famous European comeback this week…
GOAL! Valencia 1-2 Arsenal (Agg: 2-5) (Lacazette 50)
A brilliant finish by the Frenchman after a counter-attack launched down the right by Aubameyang. When the ball broke to Torreira in a central area mid-way inside the opposing half, he fizzed it over to Lacazette just inside the area, on the left-hand side. Very few strikers have feet as quick as Lacazette in the box and, as so often, he holds off a defender, Piccini, as spins and gets off a cracking shot, firing low into the net! Valencia will have to score four to win now!
49 min: arsenal build nicely down the let. Ozil feeds Aubameyang, who shuffles at the edge of the area and aims a low curler towards the bottom corner. It’s deflected out for a corner.
48 min: Wass overhits a cross from the right, eliciting groans from the home crowd. Emery jumps to his feet to applaud his team for limiting Valencia’s options to the extent that Wass resorted to that hopeful delivery.
47 min: Corner to Valencia, who are coming on strong at the start of this second half. They take the corner short and then work Piccini into space at the corner of the box. He lets flu but blasts straight into Coquelin, who couldn’t get out of the way.
46 min: Arsenal get the second half under way. As things stand, they’re on their way to a London derby in Azerbaijan, but first they must complete the job here…
Half-time: Valencia 1-1 Arsenal (agg: 2-4)
Things were looking dicey for Arsenal when Gameiro put the home side in front in the 11th minute but an superbly taken equaliser out of the blue put the visitors back on track and they’ve been pretty accomplished since then. Valencia still carry a threat, especially down the left, but so do Arsenal, with Aubameyang and Lacazette working like lions and looking almost as deadly. So far, so good for Arsenal. But 45 minutes is a long time in European football …
45 min: Maitland-Niles is clattered by Gaya and wins a freekick near half-way. That alone illustrates the extent to which Arsenal have seized the upper hand here. Since their goal they have been the better side, and the home crowd are switching between worried silence and spiteful whistles. Music to the ears of the visitors.
42 min: Aubameyang is playing a blinder. Not only does he look dangerous every time he gets the ball, he’s also backtracking and helping out his defence, especially Maitland-Niles. Mind you he wasn’t on hand just now as Gaya tried to skip his way past the right-back and into the box … and then went down and appealed for a penalty. The ref, no mug, gave him a yellow card instead.
39 min: Aubameyang does brilliantly to trick his way past Gabriel down the right and then lope his way into the box before teeing up Lacazette, who wraps his foot around a first-time shot from from 18 yards. It skims the outside of the post on the way wide!
38 min: Garay practically demands a yellow card by sliding in to Lacazette’s ankles in midfield.
37 min: Parejo shows tremendous vision and technique to pick out Gameiro wide on the left. But Maitland-Niles shows cleverness to nick the ball back and play his way out from the back.
35 min: Torreira concedes a freekick about 25 out and quite central. Parejo bangs it past the wall … and inches past the post!
33 min: Aubameyang gets back to help out Maitland-Niles down the left. Doubling up snuffs out the Valencia attack. Keep doing that and Arsenal will have shut down Valencia’s main source of danger.
32 min: Monreal joins in an attack with a nice decoy run that distracts to defenders and allows Ozil to spank a nice low ball to Aubemeyang, who gets off an immedaite shot from 18 yards. It’s well struck and on target but Neto saves well.
32 min: Coquelin is back on the pitch and seemingly fine. Arsenal, too, are looking increasingly comfortable as they enjoy a bout of possession in the opposing half.
30 min: Coquelin is lying on the pitch receiving treatment after hurting himself on landing after an aerial duel with Aubameyang. That’s a chance for the rest of the players to take some water on board.
29 min: Koscielny is well positioned to hook away a decent cross from the left by Gaya.
28 min: A good, sweeping move by Arsenal concludes with Kolasinac banging in a cross from the left. Valencia hoof it to safety.