Kevin Gameiro has knocked Arsenal out of one Europa League semi-final and now he wants to do it again.
Gameiro helped Atletico Madrid end Arsene Wenger’s hopes of a glorious finale last season, a 2-1 aggregate win sending them through to the final, where they would sail past Marseille.
Twelve months on, it is Unai Emery in charge of Arsenal and Gameiro leading the line for Valencia who, like their opponents, may well need to win the Europa League to play in the Champions League next term.
“It’s going to be a different game to last year, they have a new coach and he has brought his own style to the Arsenal team,” Gameiro told AFP Sport.
“We will have to be aware of all their strengths and weaknesses because they play a fast game, they control the ball and have players who can break quickly. It will need us to give everything to win.”
If Gameiro knows Arsenal, he knows Emery too, having played under the Spaniard at Sevilla, where together they won the Europa League three times on the bounce in 2014, 2015 and 2016.
In the first final, Gameiro owned the decisive touch, his winning penalty in the shoot-out giving Sevilla victory over Benfica. In the third, he scored again, a tap-in turning the tide against Liverpool in a 3-1 win in Basel.
“We haven’t kept in touch but I saw Unai again when Atletico played a friendly against Arsenal in Singapore and it will nice to see him again,” Gameiro said.
“He is a great motivator. In these big games and big moments, he knows how to get the best out of his players. He has won this competition three times, he knows how it works. But we both want to be in this final.”
This season, Gameiro has scored six goals since the turn of the year after managing only two before it, a trajectory similar to his team, who have recovered well from a painfully slow start.
After 12 games, Valencia had managed only two La Liga victories and sat 15th in the table but a second-half surge has seen them move to within three points of the top four.
“It was a complicated start to the season with a lot of draws but after Christmas there was this click,” Gameiro said.
“We had a bit of luck and suddenly started to believe we could win matches again. We just needed our confidence back because we have a very talented squad.”
Marcelino, appointed in May 2017, came under pressure but Valencia held their nerve. “He continued in the same way and stayed loyal to his beliefs,” Gameiro said.
“There were a lot of late signings last summer and they maybe needed a bit of time to acclimatise to the club and the coach. I think I was the same, I needed slightly longer to adapt than I expected.
“I questioned myself and realised I needed to change to succeed here. You’d rather start slowly and finish fast than the other way round.”
With a Copa del Rey final against Barcelona still to come next month, Valencia are fighting on three fronts for what could be a spectacular end to the season.
But if overcoming Sevilla and Getafe to take fourth seems unlikely, breaking Barca’s four-year hold on the Copa del Rey seems an even more formidable task. Beating Arsenal, and then either Chelsea or Frankfurt in the final, seems Valencia’s best hope.
“There will be a lot of pressure and it is good for us to play the first game in London,” Gameiro said. “We know they are strong at home but if we can manage the difficult moments, we can capitalise in the second leg.”