BAKU: Arsenal are aiming to win a first European trophy in a quarter of a century in distant Baku on Thursday morning and their hopes of doing so appear to rest at the feet of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
After missing out on a top-four place in the Premier League, the assessment of Unai Emery’s first season in charge of the Gunners will be far kinder if they can end the campaign with victory in the Europa League final.
It all comes down to this London derby in an unlikely setting by the Caspian Sea – if Arsenal win, they will have a first piece of European silverware since raising the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1994 and with it the additional prize of a return to the Champions League.
And while the Gunners have frequently toiled defensively this season, conceding 51 goals in the Premier League, Emery knows he is the envy of almost every coach in Europe with Lacazette and Aubameyang in his ranks.
They have scored 50 times between them this season, with Lacazette getting 19 goals and being named the club’s player of the year by Arsenal supporters.
His goal tally has been put in the shade by Aubameyang, who has netted 31 times, including a hat-trick in the second leg of their semi-final against Valencia and 22 goals in the Premier League to share the Golden Boot with Liverpool duo Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah in his first full campaign in England.
“I gave everything to try to be in the top four with the team and to get a trophy,” Aubameyang said recently. “I am happy with my season, not the best but I am happy.”
The Gabon star was not able to feature in the Europa League last season after his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in January 2018 and watched as Arsenal lost to Atletico Madrid in the semi-finals, denying Arsene Wenger a European final for his swansong.
Lacazette, meanwhile, may have played second fiddle to Aubameyang in terms of pure numbers but the former Lyon star insists he has produced the best football of his career this season.
“Being able to contribute without scoring is important for the team,” he told Arsenal Player.
Their importance to Emery is summed up by the fact the next highest scorers in his squad all have six goals – including the injured Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who will not play in Baku due to well-publicised security concerns.
Their figures in front of goal are all the more impressive given they have often had to fight it out for just one starting spot.
Snubbed again by France
Yet despite their pedigree, the pair are entirely reliant on success with their clubs as they continue to be frustrated at international level.
Aubameyang – born in France to a Gabonese father – will not be able to measure himself against Mane and Salah at the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt next month after Gabon failed to qualify.
Lacazette, meanwhile, has been unable to force his way back into the France set-up, such is the strength in depth available to coach Didier Deschamps with the world champions.
He has won 16 caps, but none since late 2017. Once again, he was ignored when Deschamps named his squad last week for the upcoming Euro 2020 qualifiers in Turkey and Andorra, with Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder getting the call instead.
“There is no reason to suggest we won’t see him again,” Deschamps insisted.
“Alex has had a good season too with Arsenal, although he has had some fitness problems.
“I am not going to say that the two of them don’t deserve to be there, but I have a choice to make and I chose Wissam.”
Winning the Europa League would make up for that disappointment for Lacazette, while giving Arsenal’s end to the season a different shine.