Arsenal are through to a European Final after a stunning 4-2 win in Valencia on Thursday.
The Gunners managed to set aside their dismal Premier League form to blow the Spanish side away, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagging the hat trick and the headlines.
Arsenal’s strike partnership was sensational in this game — with Aubameyang particularly deadly. For all the problems at Arsenal, in Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette they have two outstanding goal scorers who dovetail brilliantly.
This game was of paramount importance to Arsenal. With their top-four hopes all but over, the final in Baku keeps alive their hopes of reaching the 2019-20 Champions League.
Unai Emery will be disappointed that Arsenal’s defence continues to look so porous. However, he presumably recognises it might take the transfer window to fix some of those issues. Arsenal will continue to hang their hopes on their goal-scoring power.
The other major negative was that this game was a reminder of Arsenal’s potential. Their Premier League performances are all the more irritating when compared to this fantastic display.
Manager rating out of 10
7 — It’s another final for the Europa League specialist. Having won the competition three times with Sevilla, Emery now has a chance to collect a fourth winners’ medal. The Basque boss deserved credit Thursday night: He was brave enough to start with two strikers, and reaped the benefit.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Petr Cech, 6 — The veteran goalkeeper might feel he could have done more to keep out Valencia’s second goal. Arsenal fans would probably like to see Bernd Leno start the final, but Emery seems set to give Cech a final hurrah in Baku,
DF Laurent Koscielny, 7 — A year ago, Koscielny was stretched from the field at this stage of the competition with a ruptured Achilles. Now, after a remarkable recovery, he is set to lead his team out for a European final. It’s a fantastic story.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 — Arsenal were grateful that they had their two experienced centre-halves out on the field. With Valencia pressing hard as they looked to decrease the deficit, Sokratis stood firm.
DF Nacho Monreal, 6 — For the past few years, Monreal has arguably been Arsenal’s most consistent performer. However, it seems age might be catching up with the Spaniard. At 33, that shouldn’t come as any great surprise.
MF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 7 — As the most inexperienced outfield player in this side, it’s perhaps no great surprise that Maitland-Niles started a little shakily at Mestalla. However, in the second half he made one of his most eye-catching contributions to the first team to date, darting past his man and crossing low for Aubameyang to score.
MF Sead Kolasinac, 6 — The burly Bosnian is frequently Arsenal’s main attacking outlet. In this game, he was more focused on defensive duties. After a stuttering start, he steadily grew into the game before ultimately departing with a cramp.
MF Granit Xhaka, 6 — Since returning to the side after injury, Xhaka has been in pretty dismal form. This was a more competent performance from the Swiss international — although one suspects his position is an area Arsenal might look to upgrade this summer.
MF Lucas Torreira, 7 — The Uruguayan looked fired up before the whistle, but perhaps his focus wasn’t quite right — his poor decision-making contributed directly to Valencia’s early goal. He improved as the game wore on, though, and his burst forward played a part in creating Lacazette’s tie-killing goal.
MF Mesut Ozil, 6 — With Aaron Ramsey ruled out for the rest of the season, Ozil is almost a certainty to start the Europa League Final. Emery will hope for a better performance from him than this muted display.
FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 10 — Although he is Arsenal’s best goal scorer since Robin van Persie, Aubameyang’s all-around game isn’t always appreciated by Arsenal fans. However, Thursday night’s performance really had everything. He worked hard, ran the channels, and scored a fantastic hat trick. This was his best display in an Arsenal shirt to date.
FW Alexandre Lacazette, 8 — Aubameyang and Lacazette are, in some ways, a classic strike partnership. Lacazette is the smaller man, but he’s the one who holds the ball up and brings others into play. It was, after all, his headed flick-on that released Aubameyang for Arsenal’s first goal. In the second half, he got his own goal after some fancy footwork inside the box.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 7 — Introduced for Ozil (62) and was bright, helping to create Aubameyang’s hat-trick goal.
FW Shkodran Mustafi, N/R — Introduced for Kolasinac (79), and moved Monreal out to wing-back.
MF Matteo Guendouzi, N/R — Came on for Torreira (80) to add some fresh legs.