Alexandre Lacazette scored twice as Arsenal came from behind at Emirates Stadium to win the first leg of their Europa League semi-final against Valencia. Mouctar Diakhaby’s header put Valencia in front before Lacazette slotted in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s pass. The Frenchman nodded in Granit Xhaka’s cross seven minutes later to make it 2-1 before half-time. And Aubameyang’s late volley ensured Arsenal take a two-goal lead to Spain. Lacazette should have scored a hat-trick – he fluffed a header from six yards out in the second half and was later denied by goalkeeper Neto on two occasions. But Arsenal will travel to Valencia for the second leg next Thursday, hoping to avoid a second successive semi-final defeat after they were knocked out by eventual winners Atletico Madrid last year.
Arsenal started sloppily in London and Ezequiel Garay’s miss from a few yards out was an early warning. They looked rattled, and things looked bleak for the Gunners when Rodrigo was allowed to head the ball back across goal to set up Diakhaby for the opener. A loose header from Ainsley Maitland-Niles was almost pounced upon by Goncalo Guedes immediately afterwards but Lacazette’s swift equaliser – which came against the run of play – helped settle the nerves. He started the move himself, providing the through ball for Aubameyang before the Gabonese striker cut it back into the middle and Lacazette fired into an empty net. The Frenchman was clinical again eight minutes later – powerfully nodding in Xhaka’s curling cross at the back post – before Aubameyang’s volley bounced off the turf and over the bar.
Valencia still caused Arsenal problems though. Rodrigo and Guedes were pests in attack and Petr Cech was called into action to deny Kevin Gameiro from close range in the second half. Arsenal were wasteful, too – Lacazette missing two glorious chances before Aubameyang eventually made it 3-1 with a well-timed volley at the back post. Arsenal’s hopes of securing Champions League football next season have been lifted by this victory. Three successive defeats have left Arsenal fifth in the Premier League – one place below Champions League qualification and two points below Chelsea with two games remaining. Arsenal can of course reach the Champions League by winning this competition, but Chelsea could stand in their way again if they make it to final in Baku.