Result: Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 15 April 2021
Venue: Sinobo Stadium, Prague
Arsenal: Leno, Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka, Ceballos, Partey, Saka, Smith Rowe, Pepe, Lacazette
Subs: Ryan, Hillson, Bellerin, Gabriel, Willian, Cedric, Nelson, Elneny, Nketiah, Martinelli, Balogun, Azeez
Arsenal will face Unai Emery’s Villarreal in the Europa League semi-finals after a first half goal blitz despatched Slavia Prague 4-0 in the Czech capital to secure a 5-1 aggregate win.
Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka produced fine finishes on either side of Alex Lacazette’s penalty as the Gunners showed a ruthlessness before the break sorely lacking in the first leg. The Frenchman put a gloss on proceedings in the closing stages, hammering home his second with a low left foot drive.
Mikel Arteta’s quest to secure Champions League football will continue in two weeks time when we travel to the Estadio de la Ceramica to face our former head coach whose Yellow Submarines beat Dinamo Zagreb.
Encouraged by Sunday’s 3-0 win at Sheffield United, Mikel Arteta only made one change from the team that started at Bramall Lane. Emile Smith Rowe came back into the side as the number 10 meaning Gabriel Martinelli retreated to the bench. It meant Bukayo Saka shuffled to the right flank with Nicolas Pepe, who scored in the last leg, on the left. For the second game in a row, Granit Xhaka started at left-back. Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stayed back in London due to an ankle problem and illness respectively. Folarin Balogun, on the verge of signing a new deal, took up a place on the bench alongside Miguel Azeez.
The game began at a breakneck speed with the home side, cheered by 750 raucous fans, eager to start on the front foot. They look confident and rightly so given they’d not lost at home in 30-games; a run stretching back to 2019.
We looked comfortable enough but we didn’t exactly produce anything of note. That was until the 15th minute when a quick break saw Smith Rowe feed Saka who steered onto his left foot and curled a beauty of an effort that keeper Kolar tipped onto the post. Smith Rowe was alert and tucked home the rebound with aplomb. As the celebrations died down it became apparent that VAR was reviewing the situation. After an age, the goal was ruled out for offside. Boo. Hiss.
Arteta beckoned his players to keep their heads up and with the next attack, we did break the deadlock. Lacazette, played in by Chambers, flicked the ball to Smith Rowe who produced not one but two nutmegs on the way to finding Pepe. Under pressure, the Ivorian stayed on his feet before lifting the ball into the roof of the net. It was a thing of beauty. (1-0)
We were in the mood to do damage. Again we broke forward. Within a minute, Saka was left in a heap in the box. Penalty. No doubt. Lacazette put the ball on the spot and sent the keeper the wrong way. Just like that, we were in control. (2-0)
To make absolutely sure of things, we bagged a quick-fire third. Partey, Smith Rowe pand Chambers were involved before Saka bombed up the putch, cut onto his left foot again and this time, fooling the keeper, unleashed a low drive that fizzed inside the near post. (3-0)
Set the task of scoring four goals to progress, Slavia were completely shellshocked. Pacing the touchline, their head coach, Jindrich Trpisovsky, looked particularly pained. It was genuinely hilarious.
While we weren’t asked too many questions at the back. When we were, we fielded them decisively. Pablo Mari blocked a shot by Stanciu but Leno didn’t need his gloves. All in all, it was a pretty perfect 45 minutes from the Gunners.
Slavia made four changes at the break as they attempted to mount a miracle comeback but they didn’t exactly come at us all guns blazing. There was lots of side-to-side football and the occasional patient manoeuvre into our final third but Holding and Pablo Mari were on hand to tidy up anything in our box.
For the men in blue, keeping the ball and staying out of trouble was the priority. A Ceballos reaction to an off the ball challenge provoked a few handbags and earned Slavia’s Olayinka a booking but it was, as we wanted it to be, a largely muted affair.
We didn’t look hugely interested in adding to the scoreline but when Nicolas Pepe produced a tricky dart down the left flank and picked out Lacazette, the striker obviously felt it rude not to have a dig. He took a touch to control the ball onto his left foot and drilled home hard. As he finished celebrating, he was hooked off for a breather. (4-0)
Substitute Martinelli was very unlucky not to add to the scoreline when his curler whipped just past the post. To end a fine night for his side, Arteta sent on Folarin Balogun for a few moments to celebrate his impending contract renewal.
All in all, a thrillingly decisive performance. Our hopes of securing Champions League football remain alive. Well done, boys.