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Arsenal 3-1 Valencia: Big Mestalla performance needed now


Time was nearly up at the Emirates when Arsenal were rewarded for their persistence, and Valencia were punished for counting their chickens before they're hatched. A 2-1 away defeat wasn't a bad result, after all - but as Los Che prematurely made plans to take that scoreline back to Mestalla, they were stunned by a final attack: Neto parried a testing shot, the hosts won it back and crossed to the far post, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was there to tap in. A hammer blow for Valencia. It's not a result that reflects the game we saw, but it's the result they must now overturn. A 2-0 win in Spain would do it, but they'll have to put in a big performance from start to finish and, above all, avoid the defensive lapses we witnessed last night - starting with Neto's walkabout as Arsenal equalised.

Valencia seemed to take too much confidence from early opener

That was a shame, because Valencia had started well, Ezequiel Garay sending a gilt-edged early opportunity over the crossbar before, soon afterwards, Muctar Diakhaby did succeed in giving the Spaniards the lead. Though they had only taken advantage the once, the fact that they had opened Arsenal up twice in no time at all left Marcelino García Toral's men feeling very good about themselves; a little too good, perhaps. Having sought to keep Arsenal coach Unai Emery guessing by shifting to five at the back, it was actually Valencia themselves who suffered from the change in formation, both in midfield and in defence. That perhaps explains the breaches that then led to the Gunners scoring twice before the break. That and the effect of a quickfire opener that possibly settled Valencia's nerves rather too much.

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette (left) celebrates scoring his side's second goal with teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
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Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette (left) celebrates scoring his side's second goal with teammate Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.Mike EgertonMike Egerton/PA Wire/dpa

The second half brought a kind of game of chess in which neither Marcelino nor Emery wanted to take many risks. That wasn't much of a surprise: they're both cautious coaches who, above all, want to ensure their sides don't make any mistakes. Against this backdrop, a second 45 that had ebbed and flowed was ticking towards a conclusion that would have left each team with a more or less equal chance of progressing from the semi-final. Indeed, the stats show that a 2-1 home victory in a first leg is overturned exactly 49% of the time, so we'd have been looking at a tie balanced on a knife edge... had Valencia not sat back too early on a 2-1 result that suddenly became 3-1. Their chances of reaching the final have now been cut to just 21%. They're going to need an absolutely massive display at Mestalla.