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Europa League final: Can Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang salvage Arsenal's season?

9:57 am AEST 29/5/19
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Unai Emery’s side will look to the frontman to fire them into the Champions League when they do battle with Chelsea in the Europa League final in Baku

Arsenal may not have a long list of European disappointments in their fine history, but they do have a few stinging experiences, which they’ll look to correct when they face off with Chelsea in Wednesday’s Europa League final at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Having missed out on Champions League qualification via a top four finish in the Premier League, Unai Emery’s side will turn to their prolific frontman Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to deliver the goods and salvage their season in Azerbaijan.

The Gabon international scored 22 league goals in the league to end joint-top of the scoring charts – with Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane – and has netted eight times in 11 appearances on the continent this term, two goals fewer than the pair of Luka Jovic and Olivier Giroud having played two and three games fewer respectively.

Of his eight European strikes, the hat-trick in the second leg of their semi-final demolition of Valencia was significant. Following their 3-1 success at the Emirates Stadium, the threat of Los Ches mounting a comeback at the Mestalla Stadium remained.

After initial struggles in Spain – where they fell behind to an early Kevin Gameiro goal – Auba rose to the occasion by hitting a treble of goals to secure an eventual 4-2 success on the night, and a 7-3 win on aggregate.

If the Gunners are to get one over Maurizio Sarri’s charges in Baku, they’ll likely require another superhuman effort by their top scorer if they are to do what they’ve neot done since 1994, win a European final.

Even though the North London side did secure the 1970 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 under Bertie Mee and George Graham respectively, their fortunes since have been poor.

In the 2000 UEFA Cup final, they were defeated by 10-man Galatasaray 4-1 on penalties after playing out to a goalless draw following 120 minutes of football.

That loss in Copenhagen hurt owing to the fact the London side were the bookies’ pre-match favorites, coupled with wide midfielder Gheorghe Hagi’s dismissal in the fourth minute of extra time, although Arsene Wenger’s side weren't able to take advantage.

Six years later, the English giants’ amazing run to the UCL final came to a disappointing end after losing 2-1 to Barcelona at the last hurdle. Their run included a win 1-0 victory against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium – Los Merengues’ first home loss in 18 Champions League games – and 10 successive clean sheets for Jens Lehmann (a record which stands to date), who was dismissed against Barca for a professional foul.

While Arsenal may have been shorthanded in that final at the Stade de France, they did take the lead before half-time through Sol Campbell and had a glorious chance to double their advantage in the 70th minute, but talisman Thierry Henry missed the clear opportunity, before goals from Samuel Eto’o and Juliano Belletti in the final quarter of proceedings sealed their fate.

Besides the aforementioned chastening losses, Wenger’s Invincibles failed to take advantage of their favorites tag in 2003/04 when they were dumped out in the last eight by Chelsea – a side they’d done the double over in the league and eliminated in the FA Cup – 3-2 on aggregate, before failing in last year’s Europa League semi-final against Atletico Madrid.

In what was Wenger’s final chance of claiming European silverware at the club, the Gunners failed to take advantage of a 10th minute Sime Vrsaljko red card at the Emirates as it ended 1-1 in London, before a 1-0 defeat at the Wanda Metropolitano saw the Frenchman’s Arsenal tenure end with a whimper.

There are no ifs and buts in football, but one can’t help but wonder if an eligible Aubameyang might have swung the aforementioned tie in the English side’s favour.

Under Emery this time around, the Gunners will hope to be third-time lucky in a European final against a depleted Blues side that’ll be without Antonio Rudiger, Ruben Loftus Cheek, Callum Hudson-Odoi and probably N’Golo Kante after the Frenchman reportedly picked up a knock at the weekend.

However, Arsenal’s record against English sides in Europe which sees them winless in six games shows history isn’t on their side. In addition to that, the West London club’s 17-game unbeaten run in the Europa League, dating back to 2012/13, when Rafael Benitez guided them to the trophy, gives the Blues a bit of confidence, regardless of their spate of injuries.

Nevertheless, in Aubameyang, the North London club have an assassin in front of goal, a player who’s contributed to 52 goals – 13 more than any other teammate – since moving to England in January 2018.

While the Gabon forward can be guilty of missing the easiest of chances sometimes, he also packs a punch, and can do damage, evidenced by his surpassing the 20-goal mark in four successive seasons.

Emery can therefore call upon, and trust, Auba to help the North London club finally record success on the continent as they seek a return to where they feel they truly belong...the Champions League.