Just how important the late third goal from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will be remains to be seen. But the 90th-minute volley from close range has the potential for being a huge help as Arsenal look to get past Valencia in the semi-final of the Europa League.
Unai Emery’s men chalked up a 3-1 victory in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium last night and must now consider themselves favourites to reach the final after the second leg in Spain next Thursday.
Aubameyang’s late, late show put a gloss on the Gunners’ win after Alex Lacazette had scored at the double to put the home side in the lead. Valencia, once managed by Emery, shocked the North London giants by taking the lead — and grabbing what could be a precious away goal — when Mouctar Diakhaby’s header eluded Petr Cech at the far post on 11 minutes.
Emery was full of praise for his players after the encounter and Aubameyang and Lacazette came in for special mention. The Spanish coach said: “Yes, a very good performance from them both. But every player on the team, I am very proud of the players. I am very proud of the supporters and very proud of our work.
“We can be happy. But I told them: it’s the first leg. The second leg will be very difficult. When you can enjoy this performance with the supporters, I think every supporter of Arsenal is happy as well. But with calmness we will prepare for the second leg.”
And Emery would appear quietly confident ahead of playing the second-leg at the Mestalla. He added: “I want to enjoy the semi-final, playing. I don’t want to finish the 90 minutes and play the extra-time or penalties. I want to enjoy playing. I want to enjoy with our team, with our players and with our supporters also.
“Playing there after this result, the atmosphere is going to be a very, very tough atmosphere against us. That’s normal. They are one team with a habit of playing semi-finals and also with the possibility to come back from this result. But I want to play, I want to prepare and I want to play with our strategy there. It’s a semi-final to playing and enjoy working.”
Yet despite his optimistic outlook, Emery retains an air of caution and believes the tie is still in other balance. He said: “Yes, we are going to prepare for the match thinking that this round is 50/50 for both. We need also to play there thinking to win, thinking to score, thinking to defend well and thinking also to take our moments in attack. We can control with the ball and possession, but we don’t know because they are going to feel strong with their supporters there.”