The Europa League 2nd leg showdown between The Gunners and Red Star CSKA Moscow last night had all the intrigue of a Hollywood blockbuster with Arsenal proving their immunity to the Upsets, players showcasing their heroics to lift their respective squads and all the drama that usually surrounds The Gunners when there’s pressure on them to deliver.
Frankly speaking, expecting the Europa game to be a walk in the park for The North London side would have been presumptuous inspite of the comfortable 4-1 lead from the first leg.
For the first 30 minutes, it seemed as though all was going to plan and it was just going to be another routine game of football until the hosts took the lead and all over the world, wherever an Arsenal fan was watching, an eerie sense of possible disappointment loomed cushioned only by the aggregate scoreline at that time.
Things further deteriorated when glitch chances were been spurned by The Gunners so much so that one ended up in a counter attack that put the hosts 2 goals up in the early stages of the second half, leaving The Gunners one-unreplied-goal shy of exiting the Europa competition entirely.
From the grief on Arsene Wenger’s face anytime the camera focused on him, it was easy to tell how much winning this Europa trophy meant to him on a personal note as well as how far off tactics his players were.
Just as a substitution by Coach Viktor Goncharenko ignited the spark of his side scoring in the 38th minute, so also did a substitution by him mark the timing of the breakthrough goal courtesy of Danny Welbeck’s heriocs.
Giving Danny-boy stick over his performances in games where he is… comes naturally for he is better than that but nothing can be taken away from that curler of a finish that secured the Europa League semifinals for The Gunners and took the wind out of CSKA Moscow’s sails.
Even more impressive was Mohammed Elneny’s assist for that goal as well as his second assist for Aaron Ramsey’s brilliant equalizer at stoppage time to extend the unbeaten run across all competitions to 7.
In the course of writing this piece, a little birdie whispered my wish was spot on as regards who we will be facing next in the semifinal stage of the Europa League.
Anyway, back to Elneny’s heroics and man of the match performance, it was clear to see how much he could bring to the table if played in his natural position at the center of park as a holding midfielder.
As soon as the Gunners conceded a second goal, Arsene mutated the formation from a hybrid 4-3-3 to a 5-4-1 thereby chalking Mo Elneny deeper into a center back position, making him the 3rd wheel in the CB house.
The change in formation barely lasted 5 minutes before the team reverted back to the original 4-3-3 formation at which point, the Upset was almost completed by the outstanding Golovin who but for Cech’s brilliant diving save could have had a third for CSKA Moscow from a brilliant freekick… Again! His heroics throughout both legs has certainly earned him a lot of regard from some section of The Arsenal faithful who see him as a hybrid of Hleb and Pires.
Jack Wilshere was finally substituted for Callum Chambers and some level of balance in play, returned for The edgy Gunners.
Danny Welbeck made a sumptuous turn at the left side of the pitch in the opposition half close to the halfway line, sprinted forward and played a one-2 with Elneny who returned a delicate ball to Danny-boy’s part and the rest was simply beautiful to watch in realtime.
Özil’s work rate was inspirational for most part as he tracked back and held up play for his teammates on some occasion.
Most notably was his recovery run after a poor freekick delivery which had Nigerian International speedster Ahmed Muss in pursuit. Not only did he magically win that race, Mesut Özil averted a counter from springing up.
Aaron Ramsey certainly repaid the faith in him recently by his heroics of putting up an extra shift by soldiering on with a nasty gash on his shin picked upon shortly after the first goal by the hosts.
He still made crucial incisive passes, dangerous late runs into the box and eventually did score a dink in the 90th minute from an Elneny through ball.
The rationale behind playing Athletico Madrid in the Europa semifinal rather than the final is very simple. The probability of progressing past them to the final is much more likely over 2 legs than in the final where the team that gets it right on the that day wins the trophy.
Furthermore, certain of The Gunners taking on them at some point in the final 2 stages of the Europa competition, should it be a case of not winning the trophy, I’d rather deal early than experience Carabao cup final against Man City all over again.
More good news have been reported as Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s heroics in the rehabilitation unit has hastened his return to action in 2 weeks time.
Here’s what the Boss had to say about it according to Talksport reports ;
The injury is a medial knee ligament strain,” said the Gunners boss.
“He should be out for two more weeks.
“Don’t be too worried we have good medical staff and he is very serious in his rehab
“Next up is Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle in the Premier league on Sunday 13:30 WAT.