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After winning 3-1 in London, Arsenal boss Unai Emery faced a visit to his old side, Valencia, in their 2018/19 UEFA Europa League semi-final decider. Would emotions get the better of him?WATCH ON UEFA.tv
Valencia boss Marcelino had a simple plan ahead of the Mestalla showdown: "We need a 2-0 win. I want us to play with intelligence and patience, to attack and be daring." However, the big challenge for the home side would not be scoring against Unai Emery's side, but avoiding conceding, with the Gunners' strike pairing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette having sparkled in the UEFA Europa League. Moreover, after bowing out in the 2017/18 semis in Arsène Wenger's final season, Arsenal had a point to prove.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: On target for a share of the Premier League Golden Boot in his first full season at Arsenal (he and Liverpool's Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mané scored 22 in 2018/19), the Gabonese striker had registered a late goal in the first leg against Valencia.
Kevin Gameiro: UEFA Europa League royalty, the French striker won the competition for a fourth time in 2017/18 with Atlético Madrid, having spearheaded the Sevilla sides that won three editions under Unai Emery.
Alexandre Lacazette: Initially confined to the bench by Emery after he replaced Arsène Wenger as Arsenal boss, the Frenchman proved his class over the course of the campaign, and was the fans' Player of the Season for 2018/19.
With the Mestalla crowd rising to the occasion, Kevin Gameiro's close-range effort gave Valencia an early lead, but Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang powered in the equaliser, and Valencia's task became that little bit harder when Alexandre Lacazette put the Gunners in front a few minutes into the second half.
Still, the chances kept coming, Gameiro just about finishing to make it 2-2 on 58 minutes and keep Valencia's slender hopes alive. However, Aubameyang chose a good time to complete his first treble for Arsenal in the closing stages, a near-post finish and a more impressive blast into the top corner finishing the job.
Nacho Monreal, Arsenal defender: "We needed [Aubameyang] and we needed [Lacazette]. We are so proud of [Aubameyang] because he's scored three goals in a semi-final. He's helped us a lot, but it's not only him: it's every player."
Rodrigo, Valencia forward: "We believed for as long as possible, but there's been no injustice in this tie. Going 1-0 up like we did gave us a huge boost, but due to a small error we conceded the equaliser far too quickly and that meant, gradually, we lost our way. Each goal they scored made it more and more difficult."
Unai Emery, Arsenal manager: "We had the confidence. We knew it was going to be difficult but we took the possibility. We were strong in our minds, in our focus. We can be proud of the players and our supporters. It's not finished yet. It's one step more. We are happy."
Elsewhere that night
While Arsenal celebrated at Mestalla, they still did not know who they were going to face in the final in Baku, with the semi-final decider between Chelsea and Eintracht Frankfurt going to extra time following a second 1-1 draw. Home advantage may have helped steady the Blues' nerves: Maurizio Sarri's side eventually prevailed 4-3 on penalties, Eden Hazard converting the winner.
Arsenal were on familiar ground as they headed for the first all-English final in the competition since Tottenham defeated Wolves over two legs in 1972, having visited Baku to take on Qarabağ earlier in the season. However, Petr Čech was not to enjoy a happy reunion with his old side, Chelsea running out 4-1 winners – with all the goals scored in the second half.
Unlike Arsenal, Valencia were to end the season with a trophy. They were very much the outsiders when they took on Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final in Seville, but first-half goals from Gameiro and Rodrigo paved the way for a 2-1 victory.