Match Preview

After two away defeats (quelle surprise) to Wolves and Leicester City, Arsenal were staring down the barrel of yet another season outside the top four. However, both Chelsea and Manchester United decided to take the survival of the shittiest into the final two weeks of the season, and Arsenal survived, just.

Along with the Europa League and some tough looking fixtures for 4th-placed Chelsea in their final two Premier League games, Arsenal are still competing on two fronts in getting Champions League football for next season. However, Thursday’s semi-final first leg has huge implications for Unai Emery’s side. A loss or even the concession of an away goal, and Baku could be merely a dream.

Shocking defensive record: League vs Europa League

There are many confusing things in this world. How the British government messed up Brexit? How Nicklas Bendtner became a professional footballer? or if you’re an Arsenal fan, how the club looked relatively comfortable over two legs against Napoli, whilst managing to lose to Everton, Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester City in the space of two weeks?

This inability to sustain a consistent shape and structure in defence is holding Arsenal back massively and has seen the club fall outside of contention for a top-four place this season. However, just how Arsenal have fallen out of contention is somewhat staggering. After keeping six clean sheets in seven games from the beginning of March, Arsenal have now gone on to concede nine goals in their last three games.

The Premier League is proving a difficult task for Emery this season, and despite putting together more points than Wenger last season, the Spaniard is struggling massively. You can draw comparisons with Arsenal away from home this season, to the away form from last season.

Despite scoring more frequently away from home this season, Emery’s team have conceded three more goals (34) than in the 2017/2018 Premier League season (31), with one away game still to play.

The stats show better reading when Arsenal are at home, where the side have conceded just 15 goals all season. This remains the 5th best record in the Premier League this season, just five shy of Liverpool, who hold the best home defensive record in the league.

Despite such great statistics, they don’t tell the whole story from an Arsenal point of view. If you were to sit down and analyse each Arsenal home game, you’d struggle to find a game where the opposition haven’t had a goal scoring opportunity with the scoreline at 0-0.

Games against West Ham, Everton and Watford earlier in the season spring to mind. The game featured the same shocking pattern, with all three away sides missing a plethora of chances before Arsenal eventually grabbed a stranglehold of the game.

However, the Europa League proves a completely different beast for Arsenal altogether, with the Gunners conceding only six goals all campaign. With all six of those goals conceded in just three away games of the 12 fixtures played all together, with Arsenal a man down in two of the three games.

In hindsight, nine clean sheets in 12 European games is a sensational return, especially for an Arsenal team that can’t stop shipping goals back home in England.

Despite such a strong defensive record overall in the competition, Arsenal will need to be wary of Valencia’s threat. In two legs against Napoli, despite keeping a clean sheet, Arsenal did ship plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. Similar to many home games this season, the opposition failed to take them, and Arsenal escaped narrowly.

If Arsenal are to play their regular formation of three at the back, then Nacho Monreal could be in trouble. The Spaniard has a clear lack of positional awareness, with many of Napoli’s goal-scoring chances coming as a result of balls played over the top in spaces behind himself.

With Gonçalo Guedes in such good form in the Europa League this season, Monreal can ill-afford to leave space in behind for the Valencia man.

Overall, if Arsenal are to end the season with anything but the Europa League trophy it will prove ultimate disappoint. The Europa League is a second-rate European competition for a reason, as many of the sides featuring at a level worse than this current Arsenal side. Chelsea remain one of the strongest sides left in the competition, however, Arsenal were more than a match for Sarri’s side in both Premier League games.

Sensational home record: Fast starters

If Arsenal’s away form this season has been shocking, then their home form is a downright fantasy for fans. The North London club have suffered just three defeats at home in all competitions all season, against Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Crystal Palace.

Emery’s men retain a strong record that has seen Arsenal go toe-to-toe with even Liverpool, many people’s favourites for the title at the time of the Emirates fixture. A strong forward quartet of many attacking players, along with the dynamic midfield trio of Granit Xhaka, Lucas Torreira and Aaron Ramsey, has seen Arsenal sweep aside many teams at home this season.

The Gunners hold the seventh highest average for goals scored per game at home out of the teams in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season, at a rate of 2.3 goals a game. This isn’t even the staggering part of the stat. The staggering part is that of the six teams above them, five of the teams retain a spending power about twice the size of Arsenal, with clubs including, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, Manchester City and Paris Saint Germain.

Arsenal Valencia Europa League Match Preview Analysis
Home record in Europe’s top five leagues this season. (Courtesy Whoscord.com)

You can imagine the wealth of talent at the disposal of the five clubs mentioned above, given their clear advantage in spending. So one can only applaud at just how Arsenal have managed to keep close to the aforementioned clubs in the goals per game category.

Head-to-head history (Courtesy of Standard Sport)

These two sides have met five times competitively in the past, with Valencia boasting two wins – including the 1980 Uefa Cup Winners’ Cup – to Arsenal’s one, with two draws.

The Gunners were knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals on away goals in 2001 before being bested by Valencia again in 2003 – John Carew scoring on both occasions.

YAMA predicts

So whilst Arsenal have struggled away from home recently, the squad should still retain a high level of confidence. Arsenal’s fast starts in many of their big games at home should continue, I expect Arsenal to ease to victory with a 3-0 win.