Arsenal fans rejoice – the Gunners are in a major European final for the first time since man discovered fire and in with a genuine chance of a return to the promised land of the Champions League.
Despite all the indications pointing toward yet another all-action comeback in a week of all-action comebacks across Europe, Arsenal blasted their way to victory in Valencia with the sort of ruthless efficiency not seen since the early weeks of the season.
As far as timing goes, it couldn’t have been much better from Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. Whenever they had so much as a sniff, they found a way to make it count in a way that our Spanish hosts simply could not.
In the end, the personable pair were probably what separated the two sides over the two legs and they showed just why the club’s hierarchy were prepared to part with more than £100million to acquire their services.
While out defence simply cannot be relied upon, and our midfield is want to disappear when under pressure, Auba and Laca produce the goods in all weathers, in all circumstances, and at all times.
The timing of their strikes in Thursday’s semi-final second leg were pivotal, knocking the stuffing out of the hosts at times when things could so easily have gone against us.
If we could have found a way to provide them with the support their talent and industry deserves more regularly this season, we could be approaching the Europa League final safe in the knowledge that our place in the Champions League was secured, rather than staggering into Last Chance Saloon, trousers around our ankles and pistol waving drunkenly in all directions.
That said, when the inevitable storm from the hosts was weathered, Unai Emery’s side showed an admirable amount of focus and, at times, were able to control the game in a manner hardly seen during our games on the road this season.
If they can retain that level of commitment, add a sprinkle of the sort of cohesion and desire that underpinned their performances against Spurs and, indeed, against Chelsea, and keep the front two fit and firing, they stand a fighting chance of victory in the May 29 showpiece.
If naught else, the prize on offer, and the opportunity to collect a winner’s medal – even if it is the Europa League – should be enough to bring the best out of this Arsenal side, whatever their shortcomings.
With just a virtual dead-rubber against Burnley to negotiate this weekend, the Gunners can begin really doing their homework ahead of their final. They have shown in their last two Europa League ties, against Napoli and Valencia, that they have the ability to negotiate tricky ties home and away and they will need every ounce of that knowhow to get the better of a Chelsea side with mercurial talents, even if those talents play when it suits them, rather than at their manager’s behest.
Until then, let’s bask in the reflected glory of Aubameyang and Lacazette, two men around whom we need to build our side in the summer and upon whom all our hopes rest for a truly huge European occasion to come.