Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the hero as Arsenal booked their place in the Europa League final with a 4-2 triumph away at Valencia.
Arriving at the Mestalla with a 3-1 first-leg lead, the Gunners got an early scare when Kevin Gameiro found the net, but Aubameyang struck back to level the scores almost immediately, before a second away goal, from Alexandre Lacazette just after half-time, virtually secured Arsenal’s progression.
Gameiro did pull another back for the hosts, but Aubameyang struck twice more to complete his hat-trick and send the Gunners to Baku as 7-3 aggregate winners.
Emery one game away from proving he is the Europa League master
Unai Emery got the Arsenal job for many reasons but prominent among them was his remarkable Europa League record, having won it in three successive seasons between 2014 and 2016 with Sevilla.
He had not lost a knockout tie in this competition since 2012 and that run continued here despite a nervous opening spell.
The Gunners’ Premier League away form has been suspect since the turn of the year but this is now consecutive Europa League trips – Napoli and Valencia – in which they have shown plenty of character in difficult circumstances; Emery’s expertise has come to the fore when Arsenal needed it most.
Champions League dream is still alive
Emery’s rebuild of Arsenal would receive an inestimable fillip with a return to the Champions League.
Not only would it enhance the sense of forward momentum and deliver a first European trophy since 1994 but the Gunners’ summer transfer kitty would be bolstered to the tune of at least £30million – welcome revenue for a club operating with more modest funds than many of their rivals
From the despair of drawing with Brighton to a famous win at the Mestalla Stadium in the space of five days – Emery’s maiden campaign looks like being a rollercoaster from start to finish.
Aubameyang and Lacazette prove their worth again
This game was threatening to run away from Arsenal after Gameiro’s 11th-minute opener with Lacazette and Nacho Monreal arguing among themselves during a break in play exemplifying just how rattled the visitors were.
But the reason Emery opted to start both Aubameyang and Lacazette was precisely to give Valencia cause for self-doubt and the pair combined to do just that in the 17th minute. Out of nothing, Lacazette flicked a long ball on for Aubameyang, who steadied himself before volleying past Neto.
Valencia lost their sense of purpose after that moment and Lacazette left them with a virtually impossible task by scoring a fine second goal six minutes after the restart. Aubameyang then netted twice with two expert finishes, taking the pair’s combined tally to 48 goals this season.
Where would Arsenal be without them?
Cech will get his last hurrah
This would have been Petr Cech’s final match before retirement had Arsenal been knocked out but instead he will sign off with another major European final in Baku.
The 36-year-old spoke this week about how he believed it was his destiny to face Chelsea, with whom he spent 11 years and won 17 major honours, but at full-time he was none the wiser as Eintracht Frankfurt took the Blues into extra-time at Stamford Bridge.
Cech wanted to bring European glory to north London and while the Champions League was his ultimate aim, completing his five-year stay with a Europa League triumph would be quite a way to go out.