Aubameyang hat trick sends Arsenal into Europa League final
VALENCIA – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fired Arsenal into the Europa League final by scoring the hat trick that ended Valencia’s hopes of another dramatic European comeback on Thursday.
Trailing 3-1 from the first leg, Valencia made the perfect start at Mestalla when Kevin Gameiro finished at the back post.
But goals from Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette left the home side needing four in 40 minutes.
Gameiro scored again to spark hopes of a revival to trump even the efforts of Liverpool and Tottenham this week.
But Aubameyang hit his second, and then completed a brilliant hat trick to complete a 4-2 Arsenal win, 7-3 on aggregate.
It keeps alive Arsenal’s chances of securing a place in the Champions League next season, and realistically their last chance, given they need to overturn three points and an eight-goal swing on Tottenham to finish fourth in the Premier League this weekend.
Standing in their way will be London rivals Chelsea or Eintracht Frankfurt, in Baku on May 29.
Valencia had been relying on the Europa League for Champions League qualification too, given they sit three points behind Getafe, who face a demoralised Barcelona on Sunday, with two games left in La Liga.
But over the two legs, Marcelino’s side could have few complaints. They were second best at Emirates Stadium and defensively frantic here.
Arsenal, usually so fragile away from home, were able to pick them off with ease on the counter-attack.
Aubameyang and Lacazette, boasting 48 goals between them this season, are a first-class attack in a second-tier competition.
Valencia made a brilliant start as Jose Gaya headed wide at the near post and Goncalo Guedes fired over, with Petr Cech playing for time as early as the fifth minute in the hope of gaining a chance for breath.
Instead, Arsenal conceded, caught upfield after Alex Maitland-Niles shot at Neto, who rolled out to launch the counter-attack.
Rodrigo swept wide to Guedes and ran ahead of him, receiving and firing to the back post, where Gameiro slid in.
Valencia looked like they could score six let alone the one more required, only for Arsenal to find an equaliser against the run of play.
Cech punted downfield and Lacazette flicked on, with Aubameyang nipping in and, before his opponents could recover, driving into the bottom corner.
The rest of the half was high on intensity but low on quality as Valencia struggled to reboot. Aubameyang shot at Neto and Lacazette’s whipped effort clipped the outside of the post.
Halftime should have been timely for Valencia, but it was Arsenal that scored shortly after.
Dani Parejo’s careless pass put them in trouble before Gaya was outmuscled. Lucas Torreira found Lacazette, who spun out of the clutches of Cristiano Piccini and buried the ball into the corner.
The tie looked done, Valencia needing four in 40 minutes, but they got one back eight minutes later, Gameiro diverting Rodrigo’s shot over the line after Daniel Wass had pulled back.
Valencia believed again but only briefly because Aubameyang added his second and Arsenal’s third.
Maitland-Niles ghosted past Guedes and crossed to the near post, where Aubameyang was quickest.
Some of Valencia’s fans headed for the exits, and then even more followed when Aubameyang lashed the ball into the roof of the net from the angle for his third, and Arsenal’s fourth.