Europa League: Arsenal and Chelsea on course for a final showdown
Unai Emery and Maurizio Sarri have their sights set on European glory
Uefa Europa League semi-final first leg results
- Arsenal 3 Valencia 1
- Eintracht Frankfurt 1 Chelsea 1
Arsenal and Chelsea are both in a strong position after the first legs of the Uefa Europa League semi-finals.
On Thursday night the Gunners beat Valencia 3-1 at the Emirates to establish a healthy advantage ahead of next week’s second leg, while Chelsea drew 1-1 with Eintracht Frankfurt in Germany.
Pedro scored the crucial away goal for the Blues, cancelling out the strike by Luka Jovic midway through the first half, and David Luiz could have won it for the visitors with a dipping free-kick that rattled the bar.
The draw means that Chelsea have broken Atletico Madrid’s record of 16 successive Europa League matches without defeat, and on that evidence the tally should be extended to 17 at Stamford Bridge on Thursday 9 May.
The Blues had the luxury of leaving Eden Hazard on the bench, the Belgian rested to ensure he’s fresh for the finale to what has been a gruelling season for Chelsea.
“We have to play again in 62 hours,” explained Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri, when asked to account for Hazard’s demotion. “For a player that has 70 matches in a season, starting him from the bench is a normal reaction.”
Chelsea are fourth in the Premier League, and on course to secure a Champions League qualification spot, but Sarri is keen to keep fighting on two fronts.
“We don’t know yet which is the right way, we want both - the Champions League and the Europa League win,” he said. “This time we don’t want to just play the final, we want to win it.”
Lacazette hits a double for the Gunners
Arsenal, who are fifth in the table and two points behind Chelsea, look unlikely to finish in the top four of the Premier League - so it’s the Europa League or bust as far as their Champions League aspirations go.
Thanks to Alexandre Lacazette the Gunners are well placed to reach the final in Baku on 29 May, but Valencia will still be quietly optimistic given Arsenal’s defensive frailties this season.
In the balance
It was the Gunners who conceded first at the Emirates, their back four rooted to the spot as Mouctar Diakhaby rose to head home a corner on 11 minutes.
Lacazette levelled for the hosts seven minutes later, benefiting from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s sweet pass, and the Frenchman made it 2-1 when he headed Granit Xhaka’s cross into the Valencia net midway through the first half.
Aubameyang scored a third for Arsenal on the stroke of full-time to give the Gunners an advantage that their manager believes they will need.
“It will be very difficult over there,” said Unai Emery of next week’s second leg. “The tie is 50-50. We know how tough Valencia will be in front of their fans next week.”
Down but not out
Valencia manager Marcelino Garcia Toral was angered at the late goal his side conceded, but nonetheless he sounded confident they can overcome the deficit next week.
“We can beat Arsenal in the second leg,” he said. “I don’t remember Arsenal creating many chances. Maybe I’ve forgotten.
“The goal they scored at the end was a surprise and it makes it a more difficult situation for us but it doesn’t take away from our thoughts that we can reach the final.”
When are the second legs?
Both second leg fixtures will be played on Thursday 9 May. Arsenal travel to Spain while Chelsea host Frankfurt at the Bridge.
- Chelsea vs. Eintracht Frankfurt (1-1 on aggregate; 8pm, live on BT Sport 3)
- Valencia vs. Arsenal (1-3 on aggregate; 8pm, live on BT Sport 2)
Back to domestic action
In the Premier League on Sunday Chelsea host Watford at Stamford Bridge and Arsenal are at home against Brighton & Hove Albion at the Emirates Stadium.
Premier League fixtures
Friday 3 May
- Everton vs. Burnley (8pm, live on Sky Sports)
Saturday 4 May (3pm unless stated)
- AFC Bournemouth vs. Tottenham Hotspur (12.30pm, live on Sky Sports)
- West Ham United vs. Southampton
- Wolverhampton Wanderers vs. Fulham
- Cardiff City vs. Crystal Palace (5.30pm, live on BT Sport)
- Newcastle United vs. Liverpool (7.45pm, live on Sky Sports)
Sunday 5 May
- Chelsea vs. Watford (2pm)
- Huddersfield Town vs. Manchester United (2pm, live on Sky Sports)
- Arsenal vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (4.30pm, live on Sky Sports)
Monday 6 May
- Manchester City vs. Leicester City (8pm, live on Sky Sports)