Chelsea and Arsenal reached the last 4 of this season’s UEFA Europa League at the expense of Slavia Prague of Czech and Napoli of Italy respectively. Chelsea holds off a late fightback from the Czech team to win 4-3 on the night and 5-3 on aggregate, while Arsenal recorded a dogged 1 nil win at Naples. The English Premier League now have 2 representatives in another European competition semifinals in the current campaign having already produced 2 (Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur) in the semifinals of the UEFA Champions League. What a decent season the EPL Clubs are having in Europe so far. But will all these efforts be counted for nothing if there is not at least a winner from either of competitions?
The last time EPL produce at least 2 clubs in European club competitions was in the then UEFA Cup in 2009-10 when Fulham and Liverpool made the last 4, Fulham went on to lose in the final 1-2 to Diego Forlan led Atletico Madrid, and in the UEFA Champions League in 2008-09 semifinals when Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United reached the last 4. In fact, EPL dominated the UCL for 3-straight seasons, produce 3 teams in the UCL semifinals from the 2006-07 season to the 2008-09 season, but only produced a winner in the 2007-08 when Manchester United and Chelsea advanced to the final, with United overcoming Chelsea through spot-kicks.
Chelsea 4-3 Slavia Prague (5-3 agg):
Another 7-goals thriller in quick successive night in European club football, as Chelsea hosted Slavia Prague at Stamford Bridge. The Blues as Chelsea are fondly called have an away goal advantage having defeated their opponent 1 nil in the 1st leg. Chelsea Boss, Maurizio Sarri gave Chelsea’s fringe players a start, 5 changes he made to the lineup that lost 0-2 to Liverpool in last weekend league fixture and they gave a good account of themselves.
Chelsea started the game in a hurry getting the opener in the 5th minute of the start, Olivier Giroud found Pedro in a 1-2 play, and the Spaniard dinked over onrushing Slavia Prague goalkeeper, Ondrej Kolar. Chelsea extended their lead when Pedro’s close rage tap ricocheted off the post and in off Slavia Prague’s player, Simon Deli for an own goal 4 minutes after conceding the 1st goal. Chelsea was cruising by the 17th minutes, Giroud and Pedro combined again for the former to side-footed into an empty goal, Giroud now tops the scoring chat for Chelsea in the Europa league with his 10th goal despite been bit-part player. Slavia pulled 1 goal back on the 26th minute when club captain, Tomas Soucek nodded in from a corner. But Pedro responded with his 2nd goal of the night in the 27th minutes when Giroud found him again to restore Chelsea’s 4-goal aggregate lead going into the half time break.
Just when it seems Chelsea were cruising, Slavia came off the break with intent and pulled a goal back 6 minutes after the restart through Petr Sevcik long-range effort that beat Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa Arrizabalaga at the far post. 4 minutes later, Petr Sevcik pulled another outside shot that beat Kepa to make the scores 4-3 on the night and a nervy finish for the host. Chelsea held on to win 5-3 on aggregate and will now face Eintracht Frankfurt (which defeated Benfica 2 nil in Germany and went through 4-4 on aggregate) in the semis.
Napoli 0-1 Arsenal (0-3 agg):
Arsenal took a 2 nil 1st leg commanding lead into the 2nd leg at Naples and needed at avoid a 3 nil defeat to advance into the last 4. This season’s European club competition has shown so far that overturning a 2-goal margin is not so much of a difficult task anymore, Unai Emery’s tutored side knew they have to be disciplined at the back, and they did just that.
The Host started with great intensity but could not trouble Petr Cech in Arsenal’s goal, only one Jose Callejon’s effort on goal which Petr Cech duly saved with his outstretched legs in the whole 45 minutes. Arsenal was handed a major blow as influential midfielder Aaron Ramsey was taken off due to what appeared to be a hamstring injury in the 34th minute. However, Arsenal got the crucial away goal a couple of minutes after Ramsey’s substitution, Frenchman and Striker, Alexandre Lacazette beat both the wall and left Napoli’s goalkeeper flatfooted to hand Arsenal a 3-goal aggregate lead going into the half time break.
Napoli huffed and puffed in the 2nd half, firing a total of 20 shots all night, but only 2 was on target, 1 in each half compared to Arsenal total 7 shots, 4 on target. Arsenal comfortably saw out the match to advance into the semifinals where Spanish side, Valencia is waiting, Valencia defeated La Liga counterpart, Villareal 2 nil on the night and 5-1 aggregate win. Arsenal has now reached the Europa league semifinal for the 2nd successive season, having lost in the semifinal 1-2 to last season’s eventual winner, Atletico Madrid.
With the EPL Clubs kept apart in both competition, we could be in for an all-EPL-finals in both the UEFA Champions League (Spurs vs Liverpool) and the UEFA Europa League (Arsenal vs Chelsea), or worse, a no-EPL-final of Ajax vs Barcelona (UCL) or Eintracht Frankfurt vs Valencia (Europa League). The fixtures are gingerly poised as all every team at the stage is a deserved winner.
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