Aubameyang sets sights on Europa title

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (in mask) celebrating with Sead Kolasinac during the 3-0 Europa League last-16, second-leg win over Rennes on Thursday.
Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (in mask) celebrating with Sead Kolasinac during the 3-0 Europa League last-16, second-leg win over Rennes on Thursday.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

LONDON • Arsenal were able to count on a team of superheroes as they overturned a two-goal deficit to reach the quarter-finals of the Europa League, but their next opponents are unlikely to allow them the same luxury of drawing on their powers of recovery.

They were yesterday paired with Napoli in the pick of the ties following the draw, with Unai Emery's team playing at the Emirates in the first leg on April 11 before the return leg in Italy a week later.

The winners of that tie will go on to a semi-final clash against the victors of the all-Spanish meeting between LaLiga teams Valencia and Villarreal. Peter Lim-owned Valencia were on their way out before Goncalo Guedes struck a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser against Krasnodar on Thursday to progress 3-2 on aggregate.

Chelsea, Europa League winners in 2013, will fancy their chances of advancing against Czech side Slavia Prague after smashing Dynamo Kiev 5-0 for an 8-0 aggregate win, while Eintracht Frankfurt will next take on Portuguese outfit Benfica.

While Emery's men have arguably a harder path to the May 29 final in Baku, with Napoli currently second in Serie A, the Spaniard feels pressure brings out the best in his team as "the difficult moments give us our best performance".

Speaking after the 3-0 second-leg win over Rennes during which Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrated his brace with a mask from the film Black Panther, he said: "I'm excited (about) this competition.

"It's exciting not only for the possibility to go to the Champions League, but also because it's a title.

"Today, Inter (Milan), Sevilla are out, a big surprise. The last teams, they're all very important, and it's going to be very difficult. We're going to think the same before every match. The next match is the most important for us."

After Arsenal became only the second Europa League side to come back from 3-1 down after Fulham in 2010, Aubameyang tweeted his delight at the draw, claiming he was looking forward to meeting his friends, Napoli defenders Kevin Malcuit and Faouzi Ghoulam.

He also told reporters the mask "represented him", adding: "In Gabon, we call the national team the Panthers."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 16, 2019, with the headline 'Aubameyang sets sights on Europa title'. Print Edition | Subscribe