Arsenal entertain Valencia in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final clash on Thursday night, kicking off at 8:00pm local time at the Emirates Stadium. Unai Emery will face his former side, as he tries to reach his fourth Europa League final in six years.

Home Team: Arsenal

In the previous round, Arsenal delivered their two most complete performances to beat Napoli home and away, without conceding a goal. Many had tipped Arsenal to fall short against Napoli, but they ran out comfortable winners in the end which should have given them confidence to finish the season strongly.

However, since the success of that tie, they have lost three straight Premier League matches to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester – conceding three goals on each occasion. Those defeats now put Arsenal’s chances of reaching the Champions League via the Premier League looking minimal, so they are best to put all the eggs in the Europa League basket.

Winning a European trophy and obtaining Champions League football would be considered a hugely successful season for the Gunners, so this makes the first leg of this tie incredibly important. Arsenal’s away form has been somewhat dreadful throughout the whole season, so they’ll need to take a good advantage to the 2nd leg in Spain.

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Away Team: Valencia

Valencia enter this match in the same frame of mind as Arsenal do – desperate to get a reaction after a few disappointing defeats. Valencia had started the season so poorly, but the 2nd half of their season has been largely promising, with them in the hunt of salvaging a top four spot.

However, back to back defeats to Atletico Madrid and then at home to Eibar, has put a top four spot out of their hands. If they were to play in the Champions League next season, they’ll most likely have to win the Europa League this season.

In the previous rounds, they have had to knock out FC Krasnador and fellow Spaniards Villarreal to get to the semi-finals. Valencia appeared in many European finals in the early 2000’s, and will be anticipative to reach the final once again.

Head to Head

The sides have met five times in their history, with Valencia having a bit more joy than Arsenal. Their first meeting was back in 1980 in the European Cup Winners Cup final, which Valencia had won on penalties after a 0-0 draw in Brussels.

The next pivotal clash was in the 2000/2001 Champions League quarter finals, where Arsenal had won the first leg at home 2-1, but lost the away game 1-0 to lose out on away goals. Valencia had reached their 2nd successive final that year, but lost on both times.

The other two meetings were in the Champions League group stage in the 2002/2003 season with Arsenal drawing 0-0 at home, and then Valencia winning 2-1 in the reverse fixture. Valencia progressed, Arsenal didn’t.

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Predictions and Betting Tips

Arsenal are favourites to win the first leg at 10/11, with Valencia at 29/10. For the sides to go into the 2nd leg all square – that is priced at 5/2. To qualify, Arsenal are slight favourites at 4/6, with Valencia at 11/10. Despite the 2nd leg being away from home, I still anticipate Arsenal getting through this tie due to a resounding home victory here.

I would back a home 2-0 victory, at 8/1. For first goal scorer, you’d want to back Mesut Ozil at 8/1 if he starts the game, or alternatively, you can get fair odds of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both scoring at any time at 5/1. Valencia do have an excellent defensive record this season, and did get a clean sheet on their visit to Old Trafford, so for them to repeat that success, that is backed at 10/3.

Finally, Arsenal have made a habit of conceding three goals in their last three matches, and for Valencia to continue that trend, they are at 9/1 to score 3+ goals.

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