Europa League Roundup: Arsenal shutout Napoli; Eintracht, Valencia advance

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What road problems?

For the second consecutive match, Arsenal picked up a 1-0 win on the road, this time against even tougher competition. Arsenal beat Napoli, 1-0, and 3-0 on aggregate to advance to the Europa League semifinals. Alexandre Lacazette scored a terrific free kick from 30-yards out, taking advantage of Alex Meter shifting the wrong way.

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In the second half, with Napoli needing four goals and pushing, Arsenal relied heavily on its centerback trio of Sokratis, Laurent Koscielny, and Nacho Monreal, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Saed Kolasinac helping in defense.

It’s a reversal of Arsenal’s recent fortunes, where before Monday, they hadn’t won on the road since February, including in the Europa League to Rennes. However, the 2-0 scoreline from the first leg really gave Arsenal the push and momentum it needed to get past a struggling Napoli side under Carlo Ancelotti.

Elsewhere, Valencia took care of languishing Villarreal in style with a 2-0 victory, winning 5-1 on aggregate, but the real drama took place in Germany.

With Eintracht Frankfurt trailing before kickoff by a pair of goals, the Eagles – well, both Benfica and Eintracht are the Eagles – managed to secure a 2-0 result to advance in the Europa League. Sebastian Rode’s second-half finish off an Ante Rebec pass has kept Eintracht’s season alive in Europe, where Luka Jovic can continue to market himself to the world’s biggest clubs.

Europa League: Arsenal takes control of tie with win over Napoli (video)

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Arsenal took one major step towards qualification for the UEFA Europa League semifinals with one of its best performances of the season on Thursday evening.

Unai Emery’s tactical gamble paid off as Arsenal took an early lead and never let off, defeating Serie A power Napoli, 2-0 at Emirates Stadium. Midfield duo Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira produced the goals, with Ramsey scoring early and Torreira having a shot re-directed in.

Emery chose to start the trio of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette together up top, going for gold against a Napoli side know for its defending and quick counter attacks. It could have left Arsenal vulnerable defensively but the attention paid to the front-three opened up space for Arsenal’s players making late runs into the box.

That was how Ramsey scored in the 13th minute. Ozil found Lacazette in space down the wing. On attacking the box, Lacazette passed to Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the box, who spun around and found an open Ramsey. Ramsey collected the pass and chipped past Alex Meret to put Arsenal ahead.

Torreira, the little bulldog in central midfield, then forced a turnover in the 25th minute, chased it down and bore down on goal. Torreira then switched the ball to his weaker left foot and fired a strike on goal. To Kalidou Koulibaly’s dismay, the ball deflected off his leg and in for another goal to Arsenal.

Napoli came out in the second half with more energy and intensity, but they couldn’t find the way past Arsenal’s suddenly resolute defense, led by Laurent Koscielny and Sokratis. Ramsey nearly had another chance to score, with a cracking strike tipped over the bar by Meret.

At the end, Arsenal held on to secure a massive clean sheet ahead of next Thursday’s return leg in Napoli.

At the Half: Ramsey, Torreira help give Arsenal early lead, Chelsea still scoreless

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Arsenal started Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil together for one of the few times all season.

So of course, Arsenal’s two central midfielders have found the scoresheet so far.

At halftime, Arsenal holds an impressive 2-0 lead over Napoli at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening, with Aaron Ramsey and Lucas Torreira both finding the back of the net. Ramsey scored in the 14th minute off a great pass in the box from Ainsley Maitland-Niles while Torreira created his own goal almost out of nothing.

Torreira forced a turnover at midfield and then ran at Napoli’s defense before switching the ball to his left foot and unleashing a low strike. The shot deflected off Napoli star centerback Kalidou Koulibaly and wrong-footed goalkeeper Alex Meret for a goal. The goal has been listed as an own goal, but it may have been on target before the deflection.

In the Czech Republic, Chelsea is holding strong to a scoreless tie with Slavia Prague.

Here’s a look at Arsenal’s two first half goals.

Europa League: Arsenal complete comeback over Rennes

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In recent weeks, when Arsenal has been under pressure and against the odds, Unai Emery has pushed all the right buttons.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a brace and Arsenal completed an incredible comeback from a two-goal aggregate deficit, defeating Rennes, 3-0 on Thursday evening, 4-3 on aggregate. Ainsley Maitland-Niles scored in-between Aubameyang’s pair to help lead Arsenal to the UEFA Europa League quarterfinals.

Aubameyang only needed four minutes to put Arsenal in front on the night, latching onto a cross in the box and finding the back of the net.

Maitland-Niles made it 2-0 after some Rennes defenders lost focus, expecting the referee to stop the action for offside.

Ultimately, Arsenal continued to push for a third goal, but Rennes was holding up much stronger defensively. Yet in the 72nd minute, Sead Kolasinac made his way down the left side and crossed into the middle to Aubameyang, who scored past Rennes goalkeeper Tomas Koubek.

 

Premier League preview: Arsenal v. Southampton

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  • Arsenal has never lost to Southampton at home in 19 PL matches
  • Southampton is unbeaten in its last four PL away games
  • Arsenal has just four clean sheets this PL season, all at home

Southampton will look to complete the first league double over Arsenal in 31 years when they visit the Emirates on Sunday at 9:05 a.m. ET, live on NBCSports.com.

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The last time Southampton won both league games over Arsenal, 17-year-old Alan Shearer made his debut top-flight start and scored a hat-trick in a 4-2 win. They can end that drought tomorrow, following up December’s 3-2 win at St. Mary’s that saw Charlie Austin score an 85th minute winner. The Saints have struggled against the Gunners in London historically, however, as they have not won away to Arsenal in their last 23 attempts.

Despite the history, there’s plenty of reasons for both sides to be up for this match at the Emirates. Arsenal comes into the game just a point back of fourth-placed Manchester United, and with the Red Devils taking on title-contending Liverpool, there’s a big chance for the Gunners to take over a Champions League place should United drop points. Southampton, meanwhile, sits 18th in the Premier League table after losing to now-17th Cardiff City last time out, but would rise back out of the relegation zone with any kind of result.

The Gunners will have reinforcements after the 3-0 midweek win over BATE Borisov in Europa League play, returning Alexandre Lacazette from his European suspension, plus Laurent Koscielny is reportedly healthy despite coming off that midweek win injured. Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the biggest miss for the Gunners after he also was unavailable midweek due to illness.

Southampton could see Michael Obafemi return for the first time since December after finally recovering from his hamstring injury, while Stuart Armstrong could also be back in the lineup after missing the loss to Cardiff with a calf problem.

What they’re saying

Arsenal manager Unai Emery on Mesut Ozil: “My message to him is to carry on. To be available like today [against BATE Borisov] and the last two weeks. Today I am happy, and he was like we want. We’re going to play a lot of matches and sometimes we need him to be in the first XI.”

Southampton manager Ralph Hassenhutl on playing top teams: “We are focusing on the game against a difficult opponent, a very good opponent we beat once already this year in a big game with a fantastic performance and I think we’ll need another one. I’m not afraid about all the big teams because we showed against Chelsea [a 0-0 draw] and Arsenal that we can also play against these teams good matches and we will need to, that’s for sure. Every game is difficult but I think in the first game we showed that we can bring this surprising result.”

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Prediction

Arsenal has looked shaky in the past against lower-tier sides, and they are coming off a European match that required their full attention and effort. Southampton pulls off a surprising 2-2 draw and leaves Arsenal without the chance to jump Manchester United despite the Red Devils taking on a title contender.

Fans who want to try their hand at predicting PL games can down the NBC Sports Predictor app, with a chance to win up to $50,000 each week. Download it on iOS or Google Play.