Arsenal to face Chelsea in all-English Europa League final
A day after Tottenham set up an all-English Champions League final against Liverpool, Arsenal overcame Valencia in Spain, while Chelsea held its nerve to defeat Eintracht Frankfurt 4-3 on penalties.
It is the first time one country has provided all four finalists for both the Champions League and Europa League.
While Arsenal’s route to the final was rather more sedate, Chelsea’s was anything but after it was taken all the way to penalties by an exciting and adventurous Eintracht Frankfurt.
With the tie level at 1-1 after the first leg, it was Chelsea that struck first at Stamford Bridge through Ruben Loftus-Cheek after 28 minutes.
The visiting side hit back four minutes after the interval through Luka Jovic, one of the most sought after strikers in Europe, with the forward racing through to slot the ball past the stranded Kepa Arrizabalaga in the Chelsea goal.
Both teams had chances to win the tie in the additional 30 minutes of extra time but David Luiz’s spectacular block on the line denied Sebastien Haller, while Chelsea captain Cesar Azpilicueta’s effort was ruled out for a foul on the Eintracht Frankfurt goalkeeper.
With the scores level at 1-1 on the night and 2-2 on aggregate, it was left to penalties to separate the side with Kepa the hero for Chelsea.
The Spaniard saved two spot kicks, allowing Eden Hazard to fire home the winner and send Chelsea into the final.
For Kepa, who was caught up in controversy after refusing to be substituted during Chelsea’s shootout defeat by Manchester City in the League Cup final earlier this year, it was a moment of redemption.
“Penalties are down to luck. Today we won and in the Carabao Cup final we lost, but this is football,” Kepa told BT Sport.
“Today was really good and we played against a very difficult team and we are very happy.
“Our season was a little bit difficult but we have reached two finals and we have qualified for the Champions League so I think it’s a good season. Now we will have a strong London derby with Arsenal in Baku.”
Aubameyang inspires Arsenal
While Chelsea was made to sweat, Arsenal enjoyed a more comfortable evening as it eased past Spanish side Valencia.
Leading 3-1 from the first leg, Arsenal came from behind to win 4-2 on the night and 7-3 on aggregate.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat-trick and Alexandre Lacazette was also on target as Arsenal became the third English club to reach a European final in as many days.
The victory was particularly sweet for Arsenal head coach Unai Emery, formerly of Valencia, who is attempting to win the competition for a fourth time.
After a difficult opening 15 minutes in which Valencia took the lead through Kevin Gameiro, Arsenal grew into the contest and hit back through Aubameyang’s exquisite finish.
That goal appeared to knock the home side’s confidence and when Lacazette added Arsenal’s second five minutes after the interval.
But Valencia rallied and Gameiro leveled just eight minutes later to set up a tense final half hour.
Yet, any hopes the home side may have had of a comeback were quickly curtailed when Aubameyang grabbed his second and Arsenal’s third with a neat finish
Emery, who won the trophy three times in succession with Sevilla between 2014 and 2016, will now hope his side can overcome Chelsea in the final.
“I am very proud of the players and the supporters,” Emery told BT Sport after the game.
“The players did all they could and we can be proud of the whole club.
“We knew we had to be calm after they scored and we needed to control our emotions. It is very difficult to score four goals against this team because they are very organized. It gave us confidence to score quickly we know our strikers are taking chances.”