For the second successive season, Arsenal have competed in the Europa League. It’s been an exciting journey all the way to the final for the Gunners, and a win there over Chelsea will see them back in the Champions League next season.
Comfortable group win
Little did Arsenal fans know it at the time, but visiting Azerbaijan was going to be a big part in their 2018/19 Europa League campaign. The draw for the group stages saw them up against Sporting Lisbon, Qarabag and Vorskla Poltava from Azerbaijan.
Arsenal and Sporting dominated the group winning all their games against the two lesser sides. A Danny Welbeck goal 12 minutes from time gave Arsenal a vital win in Portugal. The reverse fixture ended goalless, but Arsenal ended the group as winners, three points ahead of Sporting.
Back to Eastern Europe
Arsenal were drawn to take on BATE Borisov from Belarus in the last 32. Unai Emery’s team were in for a shock in the away leg losing it 1-0 with Alexandre Lacazette sent off five minutes from time. It was the sort of freak score that only a few fans would have backed if they wanted to predict a result – but as prolific punters will tell you, entirely possible and more common than we think (do look out for these bets on reputable betting sites. Returns are usually very high.) Thankfully, the home leg proved to be an easier game as Arsenal levelled the tie after four minutes thanks to a Volkov own goal. Arsenal were ahead in the tie by half-time and went on to win 3-1 for a 3-2 aggregate win.
More away day problems
The last 16 saw Unai Emery make his return to France as his new club were drawn to play Rennes. The away leg saw them take an early lead but then it all went wrong. Sokratis Papastathopoulos was sent off and a minute later, Rennes equalized. The French side went on to win the game 3-1 putting Arsenal in real trouble. Home form saved them again with two goals in the first 15 minutes levelling the tie. A second goal of the night from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang secured the 3-0 win.
Tough quarter-final draw
The quarter-final draw wasn’t too kind for Arsenal as they faced Napoli, second in Serie A. The home first leg again saw Arsenal get off to a quick-fire start with two goals in the first 25 minutes leading to a 2-0 win. Liverpool had already lost to Napoli earlier in the season, but a first-half Lacazette goal won the game with a comfortable 3-0 aggregate Arsenal victory.
Triumph in Spain
Arsenal avoided Chelsea again in the semi-final draw and faced La Liga side Valencia who’d already had wins over Manchester United and Celtic this season. For once it was the away team that got the early goal at the Emirates as Valencia took a 1-0 lead. Two Lacazette goals in the 18th and 26th minutes put Arsenal in the lead, but 2-1 was looking a shaky lead to take to Spain. Then Aubameyang scored in the 91st minute to give the Gunners a two-goal advantage.
Valencia soon went 1-0 up in the second leg, but just six minutes later Arsenal equalized. They went 2-1 up in the 50th minute, and by now Valencia needed to score five in 90 minutes. Aubameyang had other ideas and completed a hat-trick to give himself eight goals in the competition and Arsenal a 4-2 win on the night and 7-3 aggregate victory, proving their match tactics were spot on.
Back in England, Chelsea defeated Eintracht Frankfurt to make it an all-English final. A win over their London rivals will take Arsenal into the Champions League making the long trek back to Azerbaijan totally worthwhile. The Gunners have only lost one of their last eight games against Chelsea, and that was at Stamford Bridge. It’s been a long hard journey for Arsenal, but with that Champions League carrot dangling in front of them and their strikers in good form, a triumph in Azerbaijan looks likely on May 29.