It’s just so Arsenal to put both feet on the edge of the crumbling cliff only to back away from a devastating fall at the last minute but no one could have foreseen seen this display in advance because Mikel Arteta’s side finally found their gear and hit their stride on the biggest night of their season.
Pitted against Slavia Prague, the second most successful club in the Czech Republic, a country which has gifted us a certain Mozart of football in Tomas Rosický and produced athletes like Marketa Davidova, Arsenal certainly showed their panache for making things difficult for their own good with a laborious and utterly tedious first leg draw. However, things really got kicked up a notch this time around.
It looked like the writing was on the wall when a Saka shot rebounded to Smith Rowe who drilled the ball into the net (15) only to see VAR disallow it for …. having clean boots or something.
It was judged to be offside but I’m not sure it was, in fact I’d argue it wasn’t at all but then again VAR is hardly an old friend when it comes to the North London club.
Instead of heads dropping Arsenal cranked up the heat and were soon back in front with a crucial strike from a composed and flying Pepe (18)
Then there was a penalty taken perfectly by Lacazette (21) and Saka blitzed the Slavia goal with a third and at the 24 minute mark Arsenal were in the driving seat against all expectations.
The positives :
The gunners defended in numbers and in attack they ripped the hosts to pieces down the right hand side and in truth they looked menacing every time they pushed up.
They were decisive and ruthless for long periods giving a side that hadn’t lost at home since the tail end of 2019 a football masterclass but let’s remind ourselves that nothing has been won on a cold, damp night in the Czech Republic and Unai Emery’s Villarreal now await.
Emery who was given the treatment by the savage media and was the patsy at a paralysed club top heavy with hierarchy but he has a great record in this competition having won it in three consecutive seasons and managing to take a dysfunctional Arsenal to the final in Baku in 2019.
As excited as fans are about this win against average opposition Villarreal are a different proposition. If the gunners play with the same intensity they should meet the winners of an overachieving Manchester United or Roma in the final but that depends on which Arsenal shows up.
For now we have to cherish this game as much for its entertainment as its general performance but it’s hard to get carried away on the evidence of a single game.
Arteta still has riddles to solve if he is to deliver European football next term and inconsistency is the biggest threat to Arsenal’s participation in Europe next year.
I’m unconvinced by Xhaka on the Left and Chambers on the right of defence and although both did well are they a match for Gerard Moreno and Co.l ?
It appears that lack of pace and the gaps left after going forward could leave substantial holes and pockets of space to be exploited at will and Emery will watch this game with a degree of excitement knowing he can see an avenue to the final.
For now let’s relax, two decent wins, seven goals and two clean sheets are extremely welcome but the season isn’t over.