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.
[ STREAM: Every PL match live ]
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.
The Europa League quarterfinals begin Thursday, with Arsenal home to Napoli in the most tantalizing of four solid match-ups.
[ MORE: UCL summations for each quarterfinalist ]
All of the first legs kick off at 3 p.m. ET
Arsenal v. Napoli
Alexandre Lacazette says the match-up with Serie A’s serial runners-up is a toss-up.
“Napoli has a big history like us. Now they are second in the table after Juventus and making a big difference with other important teams. They are playing very well. They have come from the Champions League but from a strong group with Liverpool. They were very competitive in this group. I know it’s going to be very difficult for us but we have confidence.”
Benfica v. Eintracht Frankfurt
If any of these match-ups are a true toss-up, it’s this one. And it comes right down to table standing, relative to league. Benfica is in a dogfight for first on the Portuguese table, while Eintracht Frankfurt is scrapping to stay in the Bundesliga’s Top Four.
Eintracht and Benfica both have brilliant attacks (and imagine if Benfica hadn’t loaned Raul Jimenez to Wolves). This one could be as good as it gets in the UEL.
Villarreal v. Valencia
Two sides who’ve met each other often and also both had success in Europe square off for a semifinal spot. Villarreal remains in a La Liga relegation place and this game comes three days before a six-pointer against Girona, while Valencia has a placement fight on its hands, too (albeit to re-qualify for the Europa League).
Slavia Prague v. Chelsea
Maurizio Sarri is not going to be sleeping on his Czech opponents, especially just three rounds from a Champions League place.
“They are very dangerous,” Sarri said. “They scored six goals in two matches against Sevilla. We need to be very compact and to defend very well. Especially on crosses they attack the box with five or six players, and they are dangerous on counter-attacks. It won’t be easy for us.”
You could argue no player has been more valuable to his Premier League club than Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Benfica loanee Raul Jimenez, and Wolves supporters would probably agree with that notion.
The Express and Star says Wolves will announce a $40 million purchase of the Mexican star on Wednesday.
[ MORE: LUNA Bar pledges to make up roster pay gap for USWNT ]
Jimenez has 15 goals in all competitions for Wolves, including 12 goals and adding eight assists in league play.
He had an assist in Tuesday’s defeat of Manchester United, and has 15 goals in 69 caps for the Mexican national team.
He turns 28 next month, helping to set the market for veteran center forwards. And with Wolves having two chances to qualify for the Europa League, either by winning the FA Cup or finishing 7th in the Premier League,
Who’s got the best route to Baku?
The Europa League draw was held in the shadows of the UEFA Champions League draw on Friday, and it’s certainly not Arsenal.
[ MORE: Sporting KC advances in CCL ]
The Gunners will have to get past Napoli, and vice versa, if they want a chance at upending Chelsea and winning an automatic berth in the Champions League group stage.
Chelsea will meet Slavia Prague, easily the best draw of the bunch.
It’s an all-La Liga tie when Valencia meets Villarreal, while Benfica and Eintracht Frankfurt have a huge chance to entertain.
Should Arsenal defeat Napoli, it would face the Valencia-Villarreal winner.
In some ways, this gives Maurizio Sarri‘s Chelsea the clearest route to Azerbaijan, though Eintracht Frankfurt can trouble any back line and Benfica has plenty of European experience.
Agree? Disagree? Comment below.
Valencia was on the verge of being knocked out of the UEFA Europa League in the round of 16 for the second consecutive year. Then Goncalo Guedes showed why he’s one of the top young attackers in Europe.
Deep in second half stoppage time, the Portuguese international used a shoulder faint to get past a defender in the box, took a touch, and then slotted home with his left foot to send the visiting Valencia squad into hysterics. The goal gave Valencia a 1-1 draw on the evening but a 3-2 aggregate win over FC Kuban Krasnodar. With the win, Valencia advances to the Europa League quarterfinals.
[READ: Inter Miami reveals temporary stadium plan]
Guedes’ strike followed an outstanding curling goal into the top corner by Krasnodar’s 19-year-old midfielder Magomed Suleymanov, which had put Krasnodar in position to advance to the next round.
Elsewhere in Europa League action, Inter Milan were bounced from the tournament by Eintracht Frankfurt. One of the top young attackers in Europe, Luka Jovic, scored the game’s only goal in the 6th minute. It’s an earlier-than-expected end to European competition for big spending Inter.
Here are the other finals from across Thursday’s Europa League action:
RB Salzburg 3-1 Napoli (3-4 agg.)
Benfica 3-0 AET Dinamo Zagreb (3-0 agg.)
Slavia Prague 4-3 AET Sevilla (6-5 agg.)
Villarreal 2-1 Zenit St. Petersburg (5-2 agg.)