LACAZETTE TURNS THE TIDE
But Unai’s men could have put tie to bed
Alexandre lacazette had two, but should have had four. So arsenal won the tie, but cannot yet start planning for the final in Baku. not quite.
The goal in the final minute of normal time for Pierre-emerick aubameyang changed the complexion somewhat, but can arsenal be trusted not to concede twice in Spain? It isn’t exactly one to sling the mortgage on.
So it was a good win, but not one that will be impossible to overturn if arsenal defend like this again. They will need to be tighter in Valencia, and sharper in front of goal, too. Had lacazette taken his chances, had arsenal’s back line been alert to the dangers of Marcelino’s team, the tie would have been as good as resolved in the home leg.
Unai emery’s celebration of the third goal suggested a man who thought it would be enough, but better defences than this have proved vulnerable under the pressure of a semi-final.
‘Together to Baku’ is UeFa’s slogan for this undercard competition. arsenal will need to be if they are to make the journey.
The third of the night was big, though, have no doubt of that. Sead Kolasinac played the ball deep to the far post and aubameyang met it on the volley. It looked a miskick, but it did the trick, creeping in low by the feet of goalkeeper neto, who was deeply unimpressive all night.
Yet had that been arsenal’s fourth or fifth, we would now be talking of the tie being over. This still feels like half-time.
So while lacazette was the hero of the night, he was its problem child, too. In the space of four second-half minutes he spurned the opportunities that would have taken the tie away from Valencia. What should have been lacazette’s hat-trick goal came in the 63rd minute. aubameyang succeeded with some delightful trickery on the flank and hit a lovely cross for lacazette to
convert. It was perfectly teed up but the striker took his eye off the ball and ending up missing it completely.
From the next attack, Granit xhaka forced a save from neto, which he prodded tamely out to lacazette. In a superb position, he had two stabs at it. The first forced another neto save, the second was blocked by former arsenal man Gabriel. either should have been a goal.
The potential consequences were felt immediately. at the opposite end, six minutes later, laurent Koscielny fell asleep and let in substitute forward Kevin Gameiro. Cech was swiftly out and saved at his feet, but the warning was there.
When the club employed a manager called emery, they must have expected a few cheap gags about comedians if things went wrong. What they can’t have anticipated is that it would be the club’s own defenders who would be providing feed lines. after three goals conceded in three consecutive games, one might at least have expected arsenal to be drilled to keep it tight. Instead, they were a goal down after 10 minutes and could have trailed by three after 15. What do they do in training?
There were just nine minutes gone when arsenal were caught cold by a free-kick from daniel Parejo as rodrigo volleyed it back across the six-yard box.
This was only temporary respite, though. Two minutes later, Valencia took the lead from a set-piece that reflected poorly on just about every member of arsenal’s back line, including Cech. again, Parejo was the provider, finding rodrigo at the far post, unsuccessfully marshalled by Kolasinac.
He headed it back across goal, where Mouctar diakhaby waited, guarded by a further three arsenal defenders, plus Cech. now diakhaby is a huge chap, yet there are plenty of big men out there, and defenders deal with them all the time. One of arsenal’s men should have been a match for diakhaby. Instead, he nodded the ball into the net as if surrounded by toddlers.
From Valencia’s next attack, Parejo tried a shot from 20 yards that Cech parried poorly, pushing the ball out rather than into a wide area.
Fortunately, ainsley Maitlandniles was on hand to mop up. Unfortunately, he tried to do so through the medium of jazz dance, contorting his body strangely, dropping to his knees, and attempting a semi- diving header which had little on its side bar mystery. He directed it poorly, too, and Goncalo Guedes almost capitalised, turning his shot over, as startled as anyone else by developments.
It was a swift, intelligent break that got arsenal back into the game, lacazette feeding aubameyang, who sped clear of a sluggish back line, drawing neto as he did. It was a poor decision by the goalkeeper. In coming out, he made aubameyang’s next move obvious, and left his goal utterly unprotected.
Sure enough, aubameyang squared to lacazette, who had continued his supporting run, and the Frenchman slotted the ball into the empty net.
This warded off a fan mutiny, and seven minutes later they were celebrating with even greater gusto.
again, Valencia came up short at the back, neto most of all. The ball came in from xhaka on the left, lacazette lost his man far too easily and was given a free header. He steered it down into the turf, a smart move — but neto should have done better.
He palmed the ball on to a post and it rebounded over the line before he had a chance to claw clear. Technology confirmed the
good news, although why the assistant on the by-line couldn’t have done that with the naked eye is puzzling. It was massively over, and he must have seen it. If he didn’t, what is he doing there? Buy a ticket and sit in the stand if you just want to watch the game.
Ice cold Alex: Lacazette coolly sweeps in his first (above), then heads home to make it 2-1