Arsenal has a chance to but a positive finish on a disappointing season as they play in Europa League semifinal action at Valencia. Valencia still has their hands full in Spanish La Liga play but will try to be an inhospitable host and add to Arsenal’s misery. The Gunners will have to play their part if there will be an all England Europa League final to go along with the all England Champions League final.
One major goal for Arsenal was to return to the top four in the English Premier League and now that isn’t going to happen. They had a perfect opportunity go to waste as they could only manage a 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium against the #17 team in the Premiership, Brighton & Hove Albion. Unai Emery’s charges still have a chance at returning to Champions League play but that will require winning the Europa League. Otherwise, they’ll be back here next season for a third straight run.
Unfortunately, the Gunners are playing some of their worst football of the season at the worst possible time. They put up a great effort in the second leg of the Europa League quarterfinals, beating Napoli 1-0 at the Stadio San Paolo. They have since won only 1 of their last 5 games in all competitions–the first leg of the Europa League semifinals which gives them a 3-1 advantage on the aggregate. Their play on the road has been particularly spotty–they’ve lost 4 of their last 6 in all competitions and are coming off of two horrendous showings at Wolverhampton and Leicester City in which they scored only one goal while conceding six.
Regardless of the outcome of this contest, Valencia has their hands full during the month of May. They have two games remaining in Spanish La Liga play with a possibility of a top four finish still at hand. They’ve also got the Copa del Rey on May 25th against what will likely be a shell shocked Barcelona team following their startling collapse at Anfield on Tuesday. With two games remaining, there are three teams in the mix for the #4 spot in the Primera Division–Getafe currently holds the spot with 58 points but Valencia and Sevilla FC are right behind with 55 points. Getafe is in a position where they control their own destiny but they’ve got a tough test looming at Estadio Camp Nou against a Barcelona side that should be fuming following their Champions League debacle. That could open the door for Valencia or Sevilla.
Valencia has won their last five home games in European Cup play and 7 of 8 in all competitions. In their last action at Estadio Mestalla, however, they were upset 1-0 by middle of the table Eibar. They did break a run of 3 straight losses in all competitions by winning 6-2 at La Liga bottom feeder Huesca over the weekend. Arsenal definitely has the ‘upper hand’ in this round but the ‘away goal’ they conceded in the first leg could be crucial. Their first leg win notwithstanding, their recent form has otherwise been poor enough that even with a 3-1 edge on the aggregate they can’t be counted on to advance. Valencia will need to score some goals, Arsenal should be able to exploit that aggression on the counter attack and we should see plenty of scoring in this matchup.