Alexandre Lacazette struck a brace and strike partner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang invaluably struck late on to hand recovering Arsenal a sizeable 3-1 semi-final advantage against Valencia in the Europa League.
Los Che started brightly and justifiably went ahead when France Under-21 midfielder Mouctar Diakhaby headed in at the back post on 11 minutes. This moment, however, stung Thursday’s then laboured hosts into life.
A flowing counter-attack witnessed Gabon’s Aubameyang unselfishly cutback for his French strike partner to roll into an open goal on 18 minutes. A powerful header soon could not be kept out by Brazilian goalkeeper Neto as the Gunners took the lead.
A fluffed header and two close-range blocks in the second half would deny both Lacazette a hat-trick. His blushes were saved when Bosnia left wing-back Saed Kolasinac picked out the loitering Aubameyang to expertly volley home on 90 minutes, lifting the atmosphere at Emirates Stadium.
Here are the Arsenal player ratings:
Petr Cech 6: On what is likely to be the final home game of a fantastic 20-year career, Cech was caught in no man’s land for opener. Rarely called into action after that.
Shkodran Mustafi 6: Along with Xhaka, ex-Valencia defender lost track of Diakhaby. Otherwise, was alert on 69 minutes to clear Cech spill.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos 7: Strong early challenge on Diakhaby showed resolve. Later, was alert and quick to stop Guedes.
Laurent Koscielny 7: Did brilliantly to deny Guedes a clear header. Veteran was already tiring by that stage, soon removed.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles 5: Curious header almost gifted Valencia a valuable second. Didn’t really do enough in opposition half, either.
Matteo Guendouzi 6: Played in an unusually advanced role in first half. Barely lasted into the second, however. Pass accuracy of 95.9 per cent deserves credit.
Granit Xhaka 7: Driving display from the Switzerland international. Pumped in succession of crosses, including for Lacazette’s second.
Sead Kolasinac 7: Failed to complete one of his five crosses before 80-minute mark, then produced when it mattered for Aubameyang’s invaluable late effort.
Mesut Ozil 4: Another nothing performance in a nothing season from ex-Germany creator. No key passes or shots. What’s the point?
Alexandre Lacazette 7: Did so well to be alive and precise with first-half finishes. These qualities, however, deserted former Lyon star after the break. Will Arsenal still come to rue this next week?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang 8: A superb performance during an otherwise subdued end to the season. Utterly selfless to tee up Lacazette’s first and create opportunity for a third, then lashed in on back post. That’s 43 goals between the pair this season.
Lucas Torreira 5: Really didn’t do a great deal after Uruguay midfielder was thrust on early in second period.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan 5: Only impact from Armenia playmaker was on ex-Gunners defender Gabriel leg.
Nacho Monreal N/A: Versatile Spain international kept the door shut.
Liverpool legend John Barnes insists the Reds did not deserve to lose 3-0 to Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Wednesday and should take positives from how they performed for large spells against the Catalan giants.
Lionel Messi struck twice in the last 15 minutes to turn a one-goal deficit into an almost impossible task for the Reds at Anfield next Tuesday.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were denied an important away goal with Roberto Firmino’s shot cleared off the line and Mohamed Salah’s follow-up smashing against a post, but Barnes said the general performance was pleasing despite not finishing their chances.
“What I always do when I assess a game is I take the goals out of the game because you might win 6-0 or lose 6-0 and not play particularity well,” said the 55-year-old, speaking at DHL Swing against Cancer event in Dubai.
“Last night was an example. Liverpool didn’t deserve to lose 3-0. In fact, in the second half they were the better team and the same in the first 30 minutes of the first half. Unfortunately they didn’t finish the chances they created.”
The scoreline was harsh on the away side as, for a 20-minute spell in the second period, they had Barcelona under pressure to the extent they switched to a 4-4-2 formation and brought on an extra defender in Nelson Semedo for former Liverpool player Philippe Coutinho.
“I’ve never seen a Barcelona team, in the second half, not able to keep the ball. They were not only outplayed but Liverpool had more possession than them,” said Barnes.
“It was a good performance but, of course, when you put the goals into it, they lost 3-0 and it’s a shame.
“It shows the quality they have and they have world class players who can put the ball in the back of the net. We created chances but couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”
Heading into the second leg in Anfield next Tuesday, the Reds need to threaten more and convert their chances, something they have normally done well in recent months, but failed to execute at the Camp Nou.
“We created chances and gave their back four problems. If we create as many chances at Anfield I will be happy. Creating those chances at Anfield it could be three or four nil,” said Barnes.
“Unfortunately being 3-0 down means if Barcelona now, were going to have to score five goals.
“The Anfield crowd will be up for it and we know we will create chances. Now they are overwhelming favourites.”
Virgil Van Dijk insists Liverpool’s players still believe they can reach another Champions League final despite their 3-0 semi-final first-leg defeat in Barcelona.
Lionel Messi struck twice in the last 15 minutes to turn a one-goal deficit into an almost insurmountable task for the Reds at Anfield next week.
Jurgen Klopp’s side were denied an important away goal with Roberto Firmino’s shot cleared off the line and Mohamed Salah’s follow-up smashing against a post, but Van Dijk said the general performance gave them hope of a miraculous comeback.
“I am disappointed but the result on the scoresheet does not really reflect how well we played and what the game was like,” said the Holland captain.
“We had some big chances – should have scored one and they could have scored a fourth – but it is 3-0 and we have a big job to do at Anfield.
“But we have shown throughout the season that we never give up. We need everyone to be together and let’s see how it goes.
“The only thing is that we can only keep believing and keep working hard for each other and stay positive and there is no reason to panic.
“We believe. We will keep believing.”
The scoreline was harsh on Klopp’s side as, for a 20-minute spell in the second half, they had their hosts under pressure to the extent home manager Ernesto Valverde changed formation and brought on an extra defender.
But not being able to take their chances against a side like Barcelona ultimately cost Liverpool.
“I think after the break we kept pressing and kept playing well and we were unlucky we did not score,” added Van Dijk, whose side were beaten finalists in the competition last year.
“We know how tough it can be with the quality they have throughout the pitch but we showed at times we could definitely create good chances against them and make it difficult.
“We had to be brave and we had to defend bravely and at times it was one v one with me and Joe (Gomez) and (Luis) Suarez and Messi.
“But especially with the pressing we had to stay brave and there are plenty of things we have to improve on.
“Overall, disappointed with the result but there were so many things that happened so we have to build on that.
“They still have that extra quality but we will try to do everything possible to go through.”
Attention now turns to Saturday’s trip to Newcastle, which Liverpool have to win to maintain the pressure on Premier League leaders Manchester City, who face Leicester on Monday.
“Obviously now the focus is on Newcastle which is a big job and after that we try everything to go through,” said Van Dijk.
“It is a totally different challenge. It will be tough up there and not easy to get a result but we will try everything.
“We have to stay confident. This (result) should not put us down or anything and there is plenty of positives to take even though there are things to improve.”
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