Europa League – Arsenal v Valencia – Semifinal Round
And then there is four…
We are two weeks away from knowing the participants of the Europa League final in Baku, Azerbaijan. Like the Champions League, we could see an all-England final… or a couple of upstart clubs from the continent instead.
As we’ve done for the last few rounds, we’ll provide an update on the matchups and who we might think will come out on top. Our first matchup is English team Arsenal playing host to Spanish entry Valencia in semifinal number one. The first leg of their matchup kicks off on Thursday, May 2nd at 3:00pm EST (8:00pm BST) from Emirates Stadium in London, England.
What Happened in the Quarterfinals
Unlike the other side of the bracket, things went relatively easy for both these clubs in the quarterfinal round.
Arsenal opened at home against Italian squad Napoli, and had little difficulty in advancing to the semifinal. In leg one, Aaron Ramsey opened coring for the hosts, netting a goal in the 15th minute to give the Gunners an early lead that they wouldn’t relinquish. The second goal in what would be a 2-0 Arsenal victory as an own goal by Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly about 10 minutes later.
Leg two wasn’t much different, even with the action shifting to Naples. This time, it was Alexandre Lacazette scoring the first (and only goal of the match) shortly before halftime. The Gunners held on for the victory, advancing 3-0 on aggregate in a series that didn’t feel that close.
In the other all-Spanish quarterfinal, Valencia had little trouble with Villarreal, winning leg one 3-1 in Villarreal, before returning home the following week and winning 2-0, advancing 5-1 on aggregate. Villarreal nearly forced a draw in leg one, taking a 1-1 score all the way to the end of regulation. However, they then surrendered two goals in stoppage time less than two minutes apart, dooming their chances – they had only a 3% chance of advancing to the semifinals after leg one – in Europe this season.
Back Home in League Play
After a 6th place finish last season, Arsenal entered this season hoping to improve and return to the Champions League. After dropping their opening two matches – to Manchester City and Chelsea – they were unbeaten in 14 straight matches (10-4-0), moving them back to the top of the table. They’ve hovered around 5th place for much of the season – which is where they reside at the moment – but three straight losses have left them trailing Chelsea for 4th place and the last qualifying spot for Champions League next season. However, with two matches remaining against lower-table clubs, they have a fairly good chance of challenging for one of those important spots and improving on last season.
Valencia has dipped slightly from last season’s La Liga performance, where they finished 4th to claim a spot in Champions League. With three matches left, they find themselves three points back of 4th place in 6th place, having lost two straight league matches for the first time all season. Unless they continue that slide, they’ll likely find themselves back in European competition next season, but I’m sure they would prefer that it be the Champions League instead of Europa League.
What the Experts are Saying
Our favorite experts are the FiveThirtyEight computer simulations, which are based on the sites global soccer ratings. As of 29 April, Valencia is a slight favorite to advance to the semifinals, doing so in 53% of those simulations. Arsenal, however, is favored to win their home game on Thursday, doing so in 43% of simulations. This matchup truly is about as close as you can get to toss up.
What We’re Thinking
Arsenal has only lost twice at Emirates Stadium all season long. Valencia has lost only once in European competition this season – to Juventus in the Champions League group stage – but hasn’t lost since coming over to Europa League. I really think that this one is going to be a good matchup, and we may not have any idea what is going to happen in the overall matchup until after Thursday. Should be fun to watch.
Until next time…