Sat, Apr 13, 2019 - Page 16 News List

Arsenal, Blues edge toward semis

AFP, PARIS

Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, left, leaps for the ball while SSC Napoli’s Mario Rui looks on during their Europa League quarter-final first leg in London on Thursday.

Photo: EPA-EFE

Arsenal and Chelsea on Thursday closed in on the Europa League last four after the Gunners saw off highly fancied SSC Napoli 2-0 at the Emirates, while Marco Alonso’s late header earned Maurizio Sarri’s side a hard-fought win at Slavia Prague.

Unai Emery’s Arsenal hold a healthy advantage going into next week’s second leg thanks to a fine early strike from Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey and an unfortunate Kalidou Koulibaly own-goal midway through the first half.

“To keep a clean sheet and score a couple of goals is a lovely way to start the first leg. We’re delighted with that,” said Ramsey, who should have added the third when he blazed over with nine minutes left.

“We can go into the second leg with a little bit of a cushion, but we know it will be a difficult place to go... They are a quality team,” he told BT Sport.

Meanwhile, Chelsea escaped from Eden Arena after a bitty display that saw Kepa Arrizabalaga have to make some fine saves to keep the Czechs out before Alonso nodded home Willian’s pinpoint cross four minutes from time to seal a 1-0 win.

The Blues remain unbeaten in the Europa League, keeping eight clean sheets in the competition this season, and it was that solidity that saw them through on a tricky evening in Prague.

The English Premier League pair remain on a collision course for the final in Baku, with both sides set to avoid each other if they make it through next week’s second legs.

Arsenal were all over Napoli from the kickoff and got their deserved opener with 14 minutes on the clock, Ramsay waltzing in at the end of a beautiful passing move to calmly stroke home Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ neat lay-off.

Napoli were completely out of sorts, barely able to get the ball out of their own half at times, and 10 minutes later the Gunners doubled their lead.

Former UC Sampdoria midfielder Lucas Torreira won possession in midfield and charged toward goal before letting off a weak shot that flicked off Koulibaly and flew past a bamboozled Alex Meret.

“I was surprised by the lack of courage and personality from my players at the start,” Napoli manager Carlo Ancelotti told Sky Sport. “Turning this around will be difficult now, but we’ll be home at the San Paolo and our supporters will help us.”

Arsenal will almost certainly take on Valencia should they hold on at what will be an intimidating Stadio San Paolo after the La Liga side scored twice in stoppage-time to win 3-1 at Villarreal.

Goncalo Guedes scored twice, including what could be the decisive third three minutes into added-time, as Marcelino’s side struck with two clinical breakaway goals to give them a great chance of making the semis.

Meanwhile, Chelsea will likely play SL Benfica should they go through after 19-year-old Joao Felix became the youngest-ever player to score a Europa League hat-trick and set up the other goal in 4-2 win over Eintracht Frankfurt that leaves the Bundesliga side, who had to play with 10 men for 70 minutes, with an uphill task to make the last four.

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