Ar­se­nal, Chelsea, Ben­fica and Va­len­cia close on EL semi-fi­nals Chelsea ban fans for racism

The Nation - - SPORTS -

AR­SE­NAL and Chelsea closed in on the Europa League last four on Friday (Thai­land time) af­ter the Gun­ners saw off highly-fan­cied Napoli 2-0 at the Emi­rates, while Marco Alonso’s late header earned Mau­r­izio Sarri’s side a hard-fought win at Slavia Prague.

Unai Emery’s Ar­se­nal hold a healthy ad­van­tage go­ing into next week’s sec­ond leg thanks to a fine early strike from Ju­ven­tus-bound Aaron Ram­sey and an un­for­tu­nate Kali­dou Koulibaly own goal mid­way through the first half, and can rue missed chances that would have put the tie com­pletely be­yond the Ital­ians’ reach.

Ar­se­nal were all over Napoli from the kick-off and got their de­served opener with 14 min­utes on the clock, Ram­say waltz­ing in at the end of a beau­ti­ful pass­ing move to calmly stroke home Ains­ley Mait­land-Niles’s neat lay-off.

Napoli were com­pletely out of sorts, barely able to get the ball out of their own half at times, and 10 min­utes later the Gun­ners dou­bled their lead.

For­mer Sam­p­do­ria mid­fielder Lu­cas Tor­reira won pos­ses­sion in mid­field and charged to­wards goal be­fore let­ting off a weak shot that flicked off Koulibaly and flew past a bam­boo­zled Alex Meret in the Napoli goal.

“To keep a clean sheet and score a cou­ple of goals is a lovely way to start the first leg. We’re de­lighted with that,” the Welsh­man told BT Sport.

“We can go into the sec­ond leg with a lit­tle bit of a cush­ion, but we know it will be a dif­fi­cult place to go ... they are a qual­ity team.”

Chelsea had goal­keeper Kepa Ar­riz­a­bal­aga to thank for sev­eral fine saves be­fore Alonso nod­ded home Wil­lian’s pin­point cross four min­utes from time to seal a 1-0 away win.

The Blues re­main un­beaten in the Europa League, keep­ing eight clean sheets in the com­pe­ti­tion this sea­son, and it was that so­lid­ity that saw them through on a tricky evening in Prague.

The Premier League pair re­main on a col­li­sion course for the fi­nal in Baku, with both sides set to avoid each other if they make it through next week’s sec­ond legs.

Ar­se­nal will al­most cer­tainly take on Va­len­cia should they hold on at what will be an in­tim­i­dat­ing Sta­dio San Paolo af­ter the La Liga side scored twice in stop­page time to win 3-1 at fel­low Spa­niards Vil­lar­real.

Chelsea mean­while will likely play Ben­fica should they go through af­ter 19-year-old Joao Felix be­came the youngest ever player to score a Europa League hat-trick and set up the other goal in 4-2 win over Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt.

Chelsea con­demned “ab­hor­rent dis­crim­i­na­tory be­hav­iour” af­ter re­port­edly pre­vent­ing three sup­port­ers from at­tend­ing their Europa League quar­ter-fi­nal first leg clash at Slavia Prague yes­ter­day (Thai­land time).

The Premier League club’s se­cu­rity team iden­ti­fied the fans from a video on Twit­ter show­ing them singing a deroga­tory song about for­mer Chelsea for­ward Mohamed Salah, now of Liver­pool, ac­cord­ing to Bri­tish me­dia re­ports.

“Chelsea FC finds all forms of dis­crim­i­na­tory be­hav­iour ab­hor­rent and where there is clear ev­i­dence of Chelsea sea­son ticket hold­ers or mem­bers in­volved in such be­hav­iour, we will take the strong­est pos­si­ble ac­tion against them,” Chelsea said in a state­ment.

“Such in­di­vid­u­als are an em­bar­rass­ment to the vast ma­jor­ity of Chelsea sup­port­ers who won’t tol­er­ate them in their club.”

Four Chelsea sup­port­ers were pre­vi­ously sus­pended by the club af­ter Manch­ester City winger Ra­heem Ster­ling was racially abused at Stam­ford Bridge in De­cem­ber.

Man­ager Mau­r­izio Sarri backed the club’s strong stance af­ter his team’s 1-0 quar­ter-fi­nal, first-leg win in Prague.

“I don’t want to talk about this be­cause I didn’t see the video,” he said. “Yes, I think it is right [that the club takes ac­tion] but you have to ask the club. It was a very strong de­ci­sion and I think it’s right.”

Liver­pool also thanked Chelsea for their quick re­sponse to the video, and said in a state­ment that they are work­ing with Mersey­side Po­lice to try to iden­tify the fans.

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