LONDON – Alexandre Lacazette scored twice to help Arsenal overcome an early deficit on Thursday and defeat Valencia 3-1 in the first leg of their Europa League semifinal tie.
The Gunners, losers in their last three Premier League matches, did not get off to the best start.
Well aware of Arsenal’s defensive weaknesses, Valencia sought to bring maximum pressure to bear on the back line and the approach quickly paid dividends.
Set-piece specialist Dani Parejo created a pair of great chances for Valencia in the early going.
The first was the product of a foul by Arsenal defender Sokratis on Mouctar Diakhaby. Parejo’s free kick found Rodrigo and he flicked-on to Garay at the far post, but the defender failed to execute.
In the 11th minute, Diakhaby bested three defenders to get his head to a Parejo corner – again aided by Rodrigo – and put the visitors up 1-0.
The Spanish side shifted into high gear in a bid for more goals and Parejo forced a stop from Gunners keeper Petr Cech before the Arsenal attack stirred to life.
Lacazette snagged the ball on his side of the center-line and released strike partner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who raced through the Valencia defense.
As keeper Neto squared for a shot from Aubameyang, the Gabon international nudged the ball into the path of the onrushing Frenchman to bring Arsenal level in the 18th minute.
Visibly rattled after conceding the equalizer, Valencia turned fearful and hesitant.
The hosts moved ahead 2-1 in the 26th minute, when Granit Xhaka’s cross reached Lacazette in the box and Neto couldn’t get enough of his hand on the ball to prevent the goal.
Aubameyang flubbed a chance to extend the Gunners’ lead before the break and Valencia worked their way back into the contest in the second half.
The visitors created danger in the opposing end, yet the enthusiasm of the 58,000-plus at London’s Emirates Stadium added impetus to the Arsenal attack, though the Gunners faithful were stunned to see Lacazette squander not one – but two – opportunities to complete the hat trick.
Cech pounced on a loose ball to deny Kevin Gameiro and Aubameyang added a third goal for the hosts in the 90th minute, transforming a cross by Sead Kolasinac.