Arsenal have one feet in the Europa League final while Chelsea get an away goal
Arsenal are on the brink of a final berth after beating Valencia 3-1 in the first leg of their semi-final tie in London.
Two goals from Alexandre Lacazette and a late Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang strike sees them take a strong advantage into the second leg next week, as Unai Emery eyes yet another shot at his favourite piece of silverware.
Meanwhile, Chelsea still have plenty of work to do after a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany, but they’ll be grateful to have landed a crucial away goal through Pedro Rodriguez.
With many believing Barcelona to be the odds-on favourites to land the Champions League title regardless of whether they face Ajax or Spurs, the Europa League final could end up being the showpiece clash of the European season.
Arsenal took a huge step towards the Europa League final as a double from Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s late strike earned a 3-1 semi-final, first leg win over Valencia on Thursday.
The Spanish side’s bright start was rewarded with Mouctar Diakhaby’s away goal, but Lacazette quickly turned the game around with two goals in eight minutes before Aubameyang’s late intervention gave the Gunners a two-goal advantage to defend at the Mestalla on May 9.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery is a Europa League specialist having won the competition three times when in charge at Sevilla.
And the Spaniard’s decision to start Lacazette and Aubameyang together against his former side was richly rewarded despite a terrible start from the hosts.
Arsenal are desperate not just for silverware in Emery’s first season but the guarantee of Champions League qualification for next season that winning the Europa League would bring.
Valencia had already missed a glorious chance to take the lead when Ezequiel Garay somehow turned Rodrigo’s driven cross over the bar from point-blank range.
However, the hosts did not learn their lesson and from another set-piece, Valencia took the lead when Diakhaby got the final touch at the back post to force home Rodrigo’s header across goal.
Lacazette played in Aubameyang and the Gabon international left his marker and Valencia goalkeeper Neto on the ground before squaring for his strike partner to roll into an empty net.
Seven minutes later, Arsenal led as terrible defending allowed Lacazette a free header from Granit Xhaka’s cross and a weak hand from Neto could not prevent the ball crossing the line.
Arsenal still have work to do with their terrible away record this season likely to give Valencia plenty of encouragement.
However, they moved much closer to booking their place in Baku when Aubameyang turned home at the back post in the final minute.
A first-half strike from Pedro gave Chelsea a slender advantage in their Europa League semi-final tie as they were held to a 1-1 draw with Eintracht Frankfurt on Thursday.
Pedro’s equaliser gave Chelsea a potentially crucial away goal after a hard-fought semi-final clash in a spine-tingling atmosphere at the Commerzbank Arena.
Fired on by the home crowd, fearless underdogs Frankfurt surprised Chelsea in the first half before being outclassed for long periods after the break.
Yet Adi Huetter’s side battled through a tough second half to hold on to a draw and leave the tie finely poised ahead of next Thursday’s second leg in London.
Filip Kostic found the breakthrough on 23 minutes, sending a pinpoint low cross to Luka Jovic, who ducked low to flick his header inside the far post.
Yet Sarri’s side eased their way patiently back into the game, and deserved to draw level when Pedro finally found the net with a well-placed strike just before half-time.
Frankfurt had a penalty appeal waved away 12 minutes from time, and both David Abraham and substitute Goncalo Paciencia came close to snatching a late winner.
The Bundesliga club will travel to Stamford Bridge for the return leg on Thursday, May 9.