Can Arsenal's attack deliver Europa League glory?
Background photo: Zakarie Faibis, CC BY-SA 4.0
After three consecutive losses, Arsenal finally responded when it mattered most, crafting a 3-1 home win against Valencia in the first leg of the Europa League semifinal. The Gunners are now in the driver's seat for a place in the final.
Thanks are owed the Gunners strike duo, Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The pair combined for 42 goals and 17 assists in all competitions to date this season. It's their form that will deliver manager Unai Emery a fourth Europa League crown and return Arsenal to the Champions League.
The Gunners inconsistent season is poised on the precipice. Failing to finish in the Premier League's top four and losing out in the Europa League will send them plummeting back into the abyss.
Tottenham's Saturday loss at Dean Court to Bournemouth leaves Spurs on 70 points. Chelsea are on 68. Two points behind the Blues with two matches remaining, the Gunners' destiny remains out of their hands. They face Brighton today and Burnley to close out the season next week. The Seagulls are safe following Cardiff's loss to Crystal Palace. Chris Hughton's side won't have anything to play for when they step on the Emirates pitch. Three points will put pressure on their London rivals but the trip to Turf Moor is not one to fill supporters with optimism, especially considering Arsenal's abysmal away record.
In short, all the eggs with little cannons printed on them must be in the Europa League basket. The trip to Spain next week in the week is when they must produce their best road form. Arsenal stumbled in the competition last year against eventual champions Atletico Madrid at the Wanda Metropolitano. Of course, they did not have a two-goal advantage in that fixture. Nor was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang at their disposal, cup-tied after his group stage participation with Borussia Dortmund.
A one-two punch this time around gives the North Londoners a greater chance to reach the final where they will face either Eintracht Frankfurt or Chelsea. With so few games remaining, fitness concerns must go out the window. The boss has little choice but to start both Aubameyang and Lacazette. The pressure only increases with Aaron Ramsey ruled out due to injury.
Without a natural winger to provide the strike partnership with service in the box, expect Emery to start Sead Kolasinac at left-back/wingback. The squad must remain strong in the middle, however, which means fans could see the defensive triumvirate of Lucas Torreira, Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka rather than Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Xhaka can pick out a pass but Auba and the Frenchman shouldn't expect support from the central midfield.
Even so, an away goal is needed to cancel out the one Los Che found at the Emirates. Both forwards have the energy, skill and imagination to make a meal from meagre provisions. Each has a knack for turning up in big games. Lacazette is making a career from it. In the summer, the manager will take to the market to replace Petr Cech and Ramsey, as well as add another face or two to mount a serious title challenge. For the moment, though, it's all on the shoulders of the men up front.