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 preview: Arsenal, Chelsea nurse advantages

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Only one of four Europa League quarterfinals sees two clubs within a goal of each other after 90 minutes, and that’s heavily-favored Chelsea’s 1-0 defeat of Slavia Prague in the Czech Republic.

So while it’s possible that the Czech side rebounds to take care of the Blues at Stamford Bridge, it’s rational to say that tie might be the least in the balance.

[ UCL RECAPS: Man City-Spurs | Porto-Liverpool ]

Olivier Giroud says Chelsea will not be overlooking the Red and Whites, if only because of the challenge presented in the first leg.

“We were very impressed by their quality and intensity,” Giroud said, from Chelsea.com. “You get used to it in the Premier League, but honestly the first half was very tough. They put a lot of pressure on us, good pressing all over the pitch, so it was a very tough. … So we know what kind of team we will face tomorrow. They are not going to give up, and that’s why we are still cautious about this game.”

Arsenal leads its tie 2-0 after the London-hosted first leg but faces a Napoli team quite capable of putting up goals in bunches.

Napoli averages almost two goals a match in Serie A this season, but Arsenal defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos says the Gunners can get the job done in Italy.

“I know my team,” he said via Arsenal.com. “I know that we are a team who play very good football. Every game we fight for the best. From the beginning we’ve improved a lot. Now we’re in the last steps of the Premier League and Europa League, and we want to win as much as we can. This is one more final and we’ll be ready to take this.”

Eintracht Frankfurt bagged four away goals and a two-goal advantage in Portugal, leaving Benfica in likely need of a three goals or better win, while Valencia scored three times at Villarreal to bring a two-goal advantage home.

Kickoff for all four second legs is 3 p.m. ET

Arsenal, Aubameyang speak out on racism as Koulibaly video emerges

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Arsenal is condemning the culprits and investigating a video showing a fan shouting racist obscenities at star Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly.

“We utterly condemn use of this type of racist language,” Arsenal said in a statement. “We operate a zero-tolerance approach and anyone behaving like this is not welcome at Arsenal and will be banned from matches. We have an extremely diverse community of fans who are all part of the Arsenal family and such incidents are rare at the Emirates Stadium. We encourage supporters to report any incidents as they happen to stewards or via our matchday alert service.”

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The incident occurred in Arsenal’s 2-0 first leg defeat of Napoli in the Europa League quarterfinals on Thursday, and comes on the heels of incidents involving big name clubs and players around Europe.

And increased reports and videos from around the grounds of England will appear like an open wound but are actually a sign of progress that fans and onlookers are no longer standing idly by and instead have found an avenue to expose such vile behavior.

After the match Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang admitted that racism in England has reared its head against him prior to Thursday. From Arsenal.com:

“I am really disappointed about that. I had the same problem here against Tottenham. When you are black like me it is really painful, I think, because we are in 2019 and obviously it is not good for football in England. Hopefully we will find a way to kick it out.”

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.