Arsenal v Valencia | Thursday 2nd May 2019, 20:00 | BT Sport
The problem with Arsenal at the moment is that are either one extreme or another at the moment. That is proven by the fact that in their previous 35 matches in all competitions, only three have ended in draws. For all that they’ve lost their last three games, they had won three in a row before so, including both legs versus Napoli.
It seems that a few teams in the Premier League are trying their best not to finish in the top four, but one thing Unai Emery cannot be doubted on is his impact in the Europa League. He won it for three seasons running whilst in charge of La Liga outfit Sevilla. However, he’ll need to negotiate two legs over another La Liga team in the form of Valencia to progress.
Los Ches are in a bit of a sticky patch themselves. It is two defeats from two for Marcelino’s men, and whilst a 3-2 away loss at Atletico Madrid is far from disgraceful, a 1-0 setback at home to mid-table Eibar was a massive disappointment. Valencia had only lost twice out of 26 in all competitions prior to that.
Could Valencia be hitting a bad spell at the worst possible time? Well, a big European semi-final means motivation is not in doubt for the 2004 UEFA Cup victors.
Home and away
One thing the Gunners can generally be relied upon is being very, very strong at home. For all that Crystal Palace beat them 3-2 in their last outing at the Emirates, Emery guided them to eight wins from eight beforehand. You are looking at high odds-on prices for Arsenal to take a lead into the second leg. The question is, if you’re prepared to get onside with a team that looked all at sea in recent outings to Wolves and Leicester?
It does seem that a possible time to catch Valencia cold is when they appear away; they are a little inconsistent on their travels. Only the top teams in their respective leagues tend to be strong on the road, but Valencia do fall into the ‘hit and miss’ category.
In their last 18 away clashes in all competitions, their record reads W6-D5-L7. Whilst some of those defeats included Juventus, Real Madrid and Atletico, plus a draw at Barcelona, they lost to La Liga’s second bottom side Rayo Vallecano only a few weeks ago. They’ve only lost once away in Europe this season however, which was 1-0 to Juventus.
One argument is that Arsenal aren’t having as bad of a season as some would suggest. Take Manchester City and Liverpool out of the equation, and they’re doing a decent job of things. Those two are just on another level at the moment, considering one won’t win the title with possibly 97 points. Arsenal are only four points off Spurs in third, and for all that they’ve been inconsistent, they’re still one of the top sides in Europe when at their very best level.
One thing is for certain is that Valencia are a dangerous outfit. They are very much one of those sides that don’t need many chances to score a goal. They’ve developed a reputation for being something of a defensive outfit this season based on the high number of draws they’ve accumulated. However, that tag is starting to go away given they’ve drew just twice in their past 15 overall.
Tight tussle forecast
We all fancied the Arsenal Napoli legs to be huge scoring affairs, so it was a pleasant surprise to see them finish 2-0 and 1-0, with The Gunners keeping clean sheets in them both. Valencia made light work of rivals 5-1 on aggregate, but their European contests across the campaign in both the Champions League and Europa League have generally been tight.
I think Under 2.5 Goals is worthy of consideration at 47/50 (Marathon). Both are entering this on losing runs and will be wary of extending that, especially with a second leg still to come.
Another little playful interest comes in the cards category. With Valencia being a threat on the break, there will be times when Arsenal are potentially caught out of shape. They are the ones who ideally need to take a lead into the second leg, even if a draw or narrow defeat wouldn’t rule them out.
Still, a lead is what they want, and they’ll commit bodies forward. Someone who’ll need to try and break down those Spaniard attacks is a certain midfielder who is quite commonly situated inside the referee’s notebook.
We’ll plump for Granit Xhaka to be booked at 12/5 (Bet365). He has been yellowed in five of his last 13 appearances. Only Sokratis has more bookings than him in an Arsenal jersey so far.
Only five sides in the Premier League has more bookings than Arsenal, so chances are that if they do pick up a yellow, then the combative Swiss performer is a contender.