London pride: Arsenal and Chelsea take edge into Europe League second legs

May 3 – Arsenal and Chelsea have taken a step closer to an all-London Europa League final in Baku after encouraging results in Thursday’s first leg semi-finals. Arsenal defeated Valencia 3-1 at home and Chelsea held Frankfurt to a 1-1 draw in Germany.

Arsenal turned a wobbly first half into a dominant display to run out 3-1 winners against Valencia in North London. Alexandre Lacazette scored a brace and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang added an important third as Arsenal came from behind to beat their Spanish opponents. Mouctar Diakhaby had headed in a deserved opener for the visitors after some sloppy defending from the hosts, but Marcelinho’s team have a mountain to climb next week following Arsenal’s rearguard action.

The win alleviates the pressure on Arsenal manager Unai Emery. Arsenal had lost three games on the trot in the Premier League, but despite his team’s commanding lead the Basque coach remains cautious ahead of next week’s return leg.

“In the first leg we wanted to get a good result, knowing that it would be difficult,” said Emery. “After the first goal our response was very good, with calmness and passion. We took our moments and the goals in the first half gave us confidence. We wanted to win and not to concede a second goal, but we also had to play. The third goal came at the end and for us it was important, but [the tie] continues to be 50-50.”

In Germany Frankfurt and Chelsea played out a frantic first-leg semi-final. The Blues scored a crucial away goal through their Spanish striker Pedro with his 12th strike of the season to bring parity in the tie after in-form Serbian Luka Jovic had given Eintracht the lead. Chelsea resisted a hostile atmosphere at the Commerzbank Arena to take home a draw, a result that leaves Chelsea as favorites to progress to the final and set up a derby with their London rivals in the Azeri capital.

Chelsea coach Maurizio Sarri felt his team had deserved more.  “I think we deserved a second goal,” said the Italian. “We had three or four opportunities. We could have scored more. We need to be careful [in the second leg]. We need to play with the same mentality. They are very dangerous especially with Jovic. They are dynamic and very aggressive.”

England’s top clubs have generally looked down on the Europa League, UEFA’s second-tier competition, but that attitude has changed in recent seasons as the competition became a viable gateway to the Champions League. With two match days remaining in the English league Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United are locked in a battle for the one remaining Champions League ticket. Chelsea hold the aces on 70 points and so the Europa League may well appear Arsenal’s best chance of securing a return to Europe’s premier club competition.

In 2017 Manchester United used to Europa League route to book a place in the Champions League, defeating Ajax 2-0 in Stockholm. Ultimately, it would not be enough to keep a troubled Jose Mourinho in his job.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1563788637labto1563788637ofdlr1563788637owedi1563788637sni@o1563788637fni1563788637