Comment and Analysis @nicholaspwright
Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bail out Arsenal's defence against Valencia
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Last Updated: 03/05/19 9:23am
Arsenal's defensive frailties remain but Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang inspired what could prove a crucial 3-1 win over Valencia in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.
Unai Emery's side came into the game on a run of three consecutive Premier League defeats and appeared to be in trouble again when they fell behind to an early Mouctar Diakhaby header at the Emirates Stadium.
They responded strongly, however, with Lacazette scoring twice in the space of eight minutes shortly afterwards, and Aubameyang extending their advantage in the final minute of normal time.
Lacazette leads the charge
Where would Arsenal be without Lacazette and Aubameyang?
The pair were unable to prevent the Premier League losing streak which preceded this game, but they have now accounted for 43 goals between them this season. Their latest efforts may just have clinched Arsenal's place in the Europa League final.
The opener showed their partnership at its devastating best. The move started and finished with Lacazette, also taking in Mesut Ozil along the way, but Aubameyang was the architect. He took Valencia goalkeeper Neto out of the game with his brilliant turn, executed at full speed, then showed the awareness to tee up his team-mate for an easy finish.
Aubameyang's pace and movement caused constant problems for Valencia, stretching their back three out of position, but Lacazette was even better, scoring his second goal with a downward header from a Granit Xhaka cross and finishing the game with the man-of-the-match award.
The only downside was that he was unable to clinch a hat-trick. The Frenchman failed to connect with an Aubameyang cross midway through the second half and was denied by Neto in a one-on-one soon after that, but it was no surprise that he was involved in Arsenal's third, holding the ball up well in the Valencia box before feeding Sead Kolasinac to cross for Aubameyang.
Lacazette is invaluable to Arsenal not just for his goal threat but for his off-the-ball tenacity, and there was certainly plenty of that against Valencia.
Shortly before half-time, he could be seen charging back into his own half to nick the ball off Carlos Soler just as he was winding up a cross, and he continued in the same vein right up until the end. Indeed, even with 86 minutes on the clock, he could still be seen charging down Neto and forcing a throw-in deep in Valencia territory.
Arsenal will hope for more of the same from Lacazette and Aubameyang when they face Brighton in the Premier League on Super Sunday but there are certainly other areas of their performance which require improvement.
Arsenal's conceded nine times in their defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester, making it 51 for the season - their highest total in Premier League history - and the same defensive issues were apparent from the outset against Valencia.
The warning signs were there as early as the seventh minute, when Rodrigo was left unmarked to head a Dani Parejo free kick across Arsenal's six-yard box. Valencia players were queuing up to apply the finish but defender Ezequiel Garay somehow contrived to fire over from point-blank range.
It was a let-off for Arsenal but they were undone by another straight-forward set-piece just a few minutes later. Rodrigo was left free again, this time from a corner, and his header towards the far post was powered over the line by Diakhaby, who leapt easily above Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal have made more errors leading to goals than any other Premier League side this season, their tally of 12 one higher than that of relegated Fulham, and there were more individual mistakes on Wednesday night. Soon after Valencia's goal, Ainsley Maitland-Niles was fortunate that Goncalo Guedes did not score from his misdirected header.
Arsenal were opened up on more occasions in the second half, with Kevin Gameiro at one point given time and space to dribble through their box before blasting a shot over, but the hosts survived, with Aubameyang's goal eventually clinching their two-goal cushion.