Arsenal: Cech, Mustafi, Sokratis, Koscielny, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Guendouzi, Kolasinac, Ozil, Aubameyang, Lacazette
Subs: Leno, Elneny, Mkhitaryan, Torreira, Iwobi, Monreal, Nketiah
Arsenal came from behind to put themselves into a strong position for the second leg with as 3-1 win over Valencia at the Emirates this evening.
Unai Emery recalled Mesut Ozil to the starting line-up, going with a back three, but despite lots of early Arsenal possession the visitors had the first real chances of the game. Sokratis conceded a free kick, Valencia worked it over the top to the back post, and when the ball was put back into the middle by Rodrigo, Garay somehow put the ball over the bar in the 8th minute.
Three minutes later and the visitors were ahead after a corner. The ball was floated to the back post, it was headed back across, Diakhaby headed home from close range. 0-1.
Cech was forced into action shortly afterwards, saving a shot from distance, and when Maitland-Niles tried to head it back to the keeper Guedes almost doubled the lead but put the ball over the bar.
The crowd tried to rouse the team, and it paid off with an 18th minute equaliser. Ozil gave it to Lacazette, he played in Aubameyang who drove into the box, cut back inside, the keeper had narrowed the angle so he laid the ball off to Lacazette who had continued his run to slot home with his left foot. 1-1.
It got better seven minutes later when we went ahead. Arsenal worked the ball back and forward on the left touchline, Xhaka crossed it, Lacazette headed it down and although the keeper palmed it away the ball had crossed the line. 2-1.
The Frenchman was in the mood, heading wide at the near post from a Xhaka corner, and a foul on him brought a yellow card for Diakhaby just after the half hour mark. Aubameyang shot into the ground and over the bar after Xhaka found him with a good ball into the Valencia box, Parejo shot over after Mustafi had conceded a free kick 30 yards from goal, and Sokratis had an overhead effort from distance easily saved.
The rest of the half played out without too much more incident, and the Gunners took the one goal lead into the break.
Mustafi had to clear early in the second period after Sokratis had been exposed, and Koscielny’s brave header prevented Guedes from testing Cech. Emery made his first change in the 58th minute, sending on Lucas Torreira for Guendouzi, but with another goal useful in the overall scheme of things, there wasn’t a lot happening from an attacking point of view.
That was until Aubameyang went down the left and delivered a brilliant cross for Lacazette, but the striker took the equivalent of a fresh air shot – but with his head – just yards from goal. The Frenchman then had another sight of goal a couple of minutes later after a Kolasinac shot from distance rebounded through to him, he was 6 yards out, the keeper saved with his feet though.
Valencia then made two changes, sending on Wass and Gameiro for Guedes and Soler in the 70th minute, and Petr Cech had to make a good save from the striker to keep us ahead when he got in behind Koscielny who looked exhausted and in pain from his ongoing tendonitis.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan came on to replace Ozil with 15 minutes to go, Monreal replaced the struggling captain in the 82nd minute, and the game entered a weird phase where Valencia didn’t want to concede another and Arsenal worried about letting in a second away goal.
However, it was another for the Arsenal as the game went into injury time. Mkhitaryan drove towards goal, took a shot, it deflected to Laca who took a shot which deflected, the keeper saved it, the ball stayed alive and for once Kolasinac provided a good ball to the back post where Aubameyang put it away to add some gloss to the scoreline. 3-1.
The late goal puts us in a good position going into next week’s second leg, and it was nice to bounce back from what has been a difficult week.