TODAY marks the 25th anniversary of Arsenal’s last European trophy: the 1993-94 Cup Winners’ Cup. This was a defensive triumph above all with three successive rounds up to and including the final featuring a 1-0 to the Arsenal.
If Arsenal do win the Europa League this season, and a 3-1 home win over Valencia in Thursday night’s semi-final first leg strongly suggests they will at least reach the final, the words ‘defensive triumph’ will be nowhere to be seen.
A 3-1 lead puts Arsenal in a formidable position and a very useful last-minute goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang transformed the complexion of the tie completely: a nervy second leg in Spain now has the comfort of a cushion. But how comfortable can you really be with a defence as bad as Arsenal’s?
After conceding three goals in three successive Premier League games, losing all three matches, it might be churlish to point out the negatives but basic defensive principles were missing again when Valencia opened the scoring far too easily when a corner was headed back across goal and Mouctar Diakhaby wandered in between three Arsenal players to nod home.
If Arsenal do get to Baku and win the Europa League it will likely be down to the two players who made the difference last night: Aubameyang, with his late winner, and Alexandre Lacazette with his two goals. Two fantastic strikers who have now combined for 42 goals and 17 assists between them this season. When you have forward players of that quality, even Shkodran Mustafi can be accommodated. Sometimes. As Valencia boss Marcelino said:
“They have two very good strikers, I don’t know how many millions of euros they cost. If you make even the slightest mistake at this level players like that can take advantage of that.”
The rickety state of Arsenal’s defence means this one is far from done yet. Although Unai Emery’s attempts to portray it as a straight toss of a coin were obvious nonsense. “It will be very difficult over there,” said Emery. “The tie is 50-50. I am very proud of our work. We know how tough Valencia will be in front of their fans next week.”
The prospect of an all-English final looks pretty promising after Chelsea secured a 1-1 draw away at Eintracht Frankfurt in Thursday night’s other semi-final. Luka Jovic, wanted by all the big clubs, opened the scoring with his 25th goal of the season. Pedro responded and David Luiz later hit the woodwork for Chelsea, who, thanks to that away goal, hold a slim advantage going into the second leg. – Eurosport