Weblog: The football punter

Aubameyang may have major say at the Mestalla

BT Sport 2, 8pm Thursday

Arsenal lead 3-1 after first leg

Arsenal have looked much more assured in the Europa League than the Premier League and they can reach the final by avoiding defeat against Valencia in the semi-final second leg.

Unai Emery has an affinity with the Europa League, having won the competition three times with Sevilla, and would dearly love to sign off his first season in north London by lifting the trophy for a fourth time.

Winning the competition became critically important for the Gunners when their hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League were effectively killed off by a 1-1 draw at home to Brighton on Sunday.

Under Arsene Wenger the Gunners achieved 20 successive Champions League qualifications but they have had to get used to Thursday night football in the last two seasons and Emery's top priority is to return them to Europe's elite competition as quickly as possible.

Two obstacles stand in their way but the first was made easier when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's injury-time goal condemned Valencia to a 3-1 defeat at the Emirates last Thursday.

It capped off an excellent fightback from the Gunners, who looked in trouble when Mouctar Diakhaby's 11t-minute header drew first blood for the La Liga side.

Valencia will be targeting another fast start and an early goal to get their supporters involved and put Arsenal under pressure.

They have won their last four home games in European competition, including a 2-1 victory over Manchester United at the end of the Champions League group stage.

And they approach the game high on confidence after keeping their La Liga top-four hopes alive with a 6-2 victory at Huesca on Sunday.

However, their home record in La Liga – six wins, ten draws and two defeats – has been a massive disappointment and it is doubtful whether they possess the necessary firepower to put Arsenal to the sword.

Midfielder Dani Parejo is their top league goalscorer with nine goals and they need much more from Spanish international attacker Rodrigo, who ended a ten-match scoring drought with two goals at the weekend.

While Valencia may lack a cutting edge, Arsenal do not.

Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette are probably the highest quality centre-forward pairing in the Europa League.

Their finishing prowess is the main reason Arsenal have contested the Premier League top-four race and could be decisive in guiding the Gunners to glory in Baku.

Earlier in the season Emery appeared reluctant to start the pair in big games and Aubameyang was regularly substituted due to a perception that he didn't work hard enough for the team.

However, that has changed in recent weeks and the Gabonese striker has completed the full 90 minutes in each of the last seven matches.

Aubameyang's improved fitness levels were evident when he struck late on in the first leg and he is likely to have a major say at the Mestalla.

Arsenal +0.5 on Asian handicap
P-E Aubameyang first scorer

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Match in Focus

19:45 TODAY

Dundalk v FK Qarabag

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Qarabag have score nine goals in their last four matches
Expert verdict
Qarabag are seasoned European campaigners and are likely to find little resistance from Dundalk. The Azerbaijan side eased past Partizani despite a shaky opening away leg, while Dundalk have failed to score in their last four qualifiers and beat Latvian side Riga on penalties to qualify for this encounter.