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Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hat-trick propels Arsenal into Europa League final
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's goals helped Unai Emery into another Europa League final
Last Updated: 09/05/19 11:33pm
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat-trick as Arsenal blew Valencia away to set up a Europa League final against Chelsea. We round up the main talking points from their 4-2 victory at Mestalla.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did not enter the conversation for the Premier League's end-of-season awards. In fact, he did not even win Arsenal's. But this stunning hat-trick took him to 29 goals in all competitions and underlined his status as one of the world's deadliest marksmen.
Each goal was expertly-taken. He showed his pace and predatory instincts for the first, taking his shot early after latching onto Alexandre Lacazette's flick, and his movement was excellent for the second, too, as he met Ainsley Maitland-Niles' low cross with a perfectly-timed near-post run.
His third was arguably the pick of the bunch. Having exchanged passes with Matteo Guendouzi on Arsenal's right, the 29-year-old allowed the ball to run through his legs to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, meeting the substitute's subsequent through ball with an unstoppable finish from an acute angle.
The hat-trick goal capped a sensational, and utterly clinical, all-round performance. Indeed, as well providing cutting edge in the final third, he caught the eye with some hugely impressive defensive work. He could be seen tracking back and pressing throughout, his off-the-ball efforts summed up by one lung-busting recovery run in the first half.
As in the first leg - and as has been the case for so much of the season - Aubameyang was ably supported by his partner in crime Lacazette. The Frenchman provided the assist for his first goal, scored a brilliant one himself, and worked just as tirelessly off the ball. The pair have had a direct hand in 10 of Arsenal's last 12 Europa League goals.
Arsenal save their best for Europe
The big question for Arsenal before the game was whether they would carry their domestic woes onto the European stage. Emery's side came into it having failed to win any of their last four Premier League fixtures, a deflating run which all but ended their top-four hopes, but thankfully they were able to put those troubles to one side.
Not that it looked that way at the start. Valencia began at a ferocious place, targeting the spaces behind Arsenal's wing-backs repeatedly. The tactic worked, with Maitland-Niles enduring a particularly wretched time up against Jose Gaya and Goncalo Guedes, but Aubameyang's equaliser killed the hosts' momentum and calmed Arsenal down.
The game was ultimately decided by their clinical strikers, but Arsenal also showed impressive maturity in an extremely hostile environment, retaining possession at key moments and slowing the game down when they needed to. "We showed our character," said Emery afterwards.
Arsenal's Europa League form begs the question as to why they have been unable to produce the same standards in the Premier League of late, but for now Arsenal can simply enjoy the prospect of their first European final since 2006. Their performance here should have Chelsea worried.
Baku beckons for Europa specialist Emery
Emery has come in for fierce criticism during Arsenal's Premier League slump, but this was another reminder of his managerial acumen in knockout competitions. Only Chelsea - and the long trip to Baku - now stand between him and a fourth Europa League trophy to add to the three he won during his time in charge of Sevilla.
Amazingly, Emery has now won his last 19 consecutive knockout ties in the Europa League. Since 2014, he has reached more European finals than any other manager, his fourth putting him ahead of Jurgen Klopp, Diego Simeone and Zinedine Zidane, who have all reached three.
It is an undeniably impressive feat. And while this is not the competition that Arsenal want to be associated with in the long term, it could now provide them with a route back into the Champions League - as well as their first European trophy since 1994.