Unai Emery once again must have read the preview and went with my proposed starting eleven. It took five minutes for Valencia to fashion the first chance when Gameiro’s cross was headed clear by Laurent Koscielny under pressure from Gaya. Then Ainsley Maitland-Niles did well to dispossess Gaya at the second attempt but the ball fell to Guedes who fired over.
The Gunners right wing-back then appeared in the other box only to shoot straight at goalkeeper Neto. Valencia attacked the gap he had left behind him and the experienced Gameiro slid in unmarked at the back post to apply the finish to the left wing cross. Just the start we had dreaded.
Valencia 1-0 The Arsenal
Rodrigo had two chances to give the hosts the advantage. One struck Gameiro and was cleared, the second was mercifully off target. From nowhere we struck, and it was the big two who came up with the goods. Alexandre Lacazette out jumped two defenders, Gabriel included, to flick a header goalwards. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, despite being surrounded by four defenders, was the quickest to react and produced a wonderful right foot volley a coat of paint inside the near post from the edge of the box.
Valencia 1-1 The Arsenal
The travelling faithful were now to be heard over the previously boisterous home support. Mesut Ozil won a corner that was headed over by Aubameyang. Slowly we were taking a degree of control. The feel of the match had changed. As Francis Coquelin, back from suspension for Valencia, was treated for a back problem Chelsea took the lead against Eintracht Frankfurt. The all-London Final was on.
Mesut Ozil was making hay and almost put Lacazette in only for Gabriel to show an unexpected burst of pace to deny him. Persistent, Ozil then teed up Aubameyang who fired straight at Neto. A misplaced Lacazette pass allowed Valencia another break which was ended by Lucas Torreira conceding a free-kick for tripping Guedes just outside the box. Parejo’s venomous effort flew wide of the far post.
Garay’s horrendous sliding chop from behind on Lacazette earned him the first yellow card of the match. The Gunners striker was close to extracting full revenge when Aubameyang came racing in from the right and laid it back for his strike partner to smash against the outside of the near post. That should perhaps have been a decisive second.
Gaya drew the second yellow card of the night for simulation when he threw himself to the floor feigning contact by Maitland-Niles, and was extremely fortunate not to see a second moments later when tripping Maitland-Niles off the ball. A tough start had turned into a wonderful half for The Arsenal.
We knew that Valencia would have to come out all guns blazing at the start of the second-half and the sight of Lacazette and Aubameyang defending deep, as they had on occasion in the first, was a tribute to their professionalism and team ethic as well as their genius. Unselfish brilliance. This tactic also allowed Ozil to stay in advanced areas in case we needed an outlet. Clever tactics.
Ozil again looked to provide for Aubameyang as we broke but the striker’s shot was blocked out for a corner. It was but a momentary delay, as news of an equaliser for Eintracht came through Lacazette twisted and turned in the box, found yard of space, and placed a glorious stroked finish inside the far post. Have that! One song filled the mighty Mestalla. “We’re on our way, we’re on our way, we’re off to Baku, we’re on our way!”
Valencia 1-2 The Arsenal
A seemingly offside Parejo cut a ball back which was played into Gameiro who was not adjudged to have interfered with Petr Cech when he bundled the ball over the line. They needed five. They had two. We had Lacazette and Aubameyang.
Valencia 2-2 The Arsenal
Mesut Ozil wound the crowd up with silent gestures as he was withdrawn for Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It was something of a surprise for this old fool, but Emery must have wanted the box to box qualities of the Armenian. Garay’s speculative long range drive whistled past the post as I checked my cash-out option.
Valencia were broken, as was the ‘holic pound, by a magnificent Arsenal break. Lacazette started the move by winning the ball deep in his own half and it ended with Aubameyang sweeping a superb Maitland-Niles cross in at the near post. The stadium started emptying and the magnificent travelling faithful bid their hosts “Adios, adios, adios!”
Valencia 2-3 The Arsenal
The hosts sought some fight back, but Soler fired over as the away section celebrated wildly. Who would we meet in Baku. It was still stalemate at the bus stop in Fulham. It swung from end to end. I was lost in a state of delirium. How can this Jekkyl and Hyde team play so superbly against the strongest opposition yet look so ordinary against the run of the mill? A question for another day. This was an evening to celebrate greatness.
Then, another. Aubameyang’s first hat-trick for The Arsenal when he lashed a Mkhitaryan pass into the roof of the net. He and Lacazette had absolutely ripped a very good team to pieces. This was just amazing to witness.
Valencia 2-4 The Arsenal
Handbags greeted the final whistle as the vanquished reacted badly to their utter humiliation.
As requested in the preview, you had a great one, ‘holics.