Arsenal 3-1 Valencia: Aubameyang and Lacazette combine to bail out defence

Arsenal are a team of contrasts.

Theyre flawed but entertaining, in one breath exasperating, the next exhilarating, and all of those aspects were on show against Valencia in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.

After shaking off an appalling start, eventually the Gunners attacking qualities won the day to turn an uncertain 2-1 into an advantageous 3-1.

Read more: Pochettino must balance Champions League dreams with securing top four

Alexandre Lacazette scored twice, and yet he could – and perhaps should – have scored more. Thankfully for him his strike partner, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, popped up late on to ensure that Arsenal completed the turnaround on the pitch and changed the mood off it.

As a result they will go to the Mestalla on Thursday with belief, rather than hope, that they can reach the final in Baku on 29 May.

Ramshackle defending

Coming into the game all the talk was of Arsenals ramshackle defending. After 15 minutes at the Emirates Stadium the hosts had done nothing to change that narrative as lax marking, poor positioning and sloppy decision-making allowed Valencia three good chances.

From the first two set pieces of the game the Gunners weakness was exposed, with Rodrigo running free to set up Ezequiel Garay two yards out, only for the centre-back to somehow clear the crossbar.

Mouctar Diakhaby headed Valencia ahead early on (Source: Getty)

Three minutes later, it was 1-0 as Rodrigo lost Sokratis from a corner and headed back across goal for Mouctar Diakhaby to climb above Granit Xhaka and nod in.

Not content with that start, Ainsley Maitland-Niles botched an attempted pass-back with his head, granting Goncalo Guedes an opportunity. With the crowd stunned into near-silence, Arsenal tried their very best to make themselves hospitable to their visitors.

Comeback time

But while they tied themselves in knots defending, with their best attacking trio on the pitch the Gunners bared their teeth at the other end.

Lacazette, red-hot in front of goal and happy to be paired with his strike partner Aubameyang, buried two chances in seven minutes to turn the mood around.

First Aubameyang raced onto a through-ball before showing good composure to draw the goalkeeper and defence and tee up Lacazette for a tap-in to make it 1-1.

Xhaka then swung in a lovely left-footed cross and the French striker reacted faster than a dozing Facundo Roncaglia to beat Neto with a downward header.

After three consecutive Premier League defeats in which nine goals were conceded, the home supporters were sated, but not convinced.

Battling Koscielny

With recent fall guy Shkodran Mustafi and the occasionally error-prone Sokratis alongside him, the importance of captain Laurent Koscielny was amplified.

In one of the biggest games of their season Arsenal had a lead to defend. The problem was Koscielny was limping sporadically in between phases of play.

Laurent Koscielny battled an Achilles problem to get through (Source: Getty)

The 33-year-old had surgery on his Achilles after an injury at this stage last year and as a result suffersRead More – Source

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