Arsenal have moved a step closer to reaching the semi-final of the Europa League after a ruthless 4-1 victory over CSKA Moscow at the Emirates Stadium yesterday night.
Right from the start, the Gunners were on the front foot and there was the feeling that Arsene Wenger’s men could open up and score goals at will.
For the first-half Arsenal were as Arsenal can be on good days. They were fleet-footed, aggressive and incisive.
The difference between the two sides, apart from Arsenal’s home advantage and current sparkling form, was that the home side expected to win as opposed to their Russian opponent’s distant hope.
However, on the few occasions Arsenal were tested in the first-half, they were found wanting in front of their own box. That’s something the Russians will try to target in the return leg next week.
CSKA’s game is all about the counter-attack and how quickly they can go forward after winning it in the middle of the field. Had their been a more clinical frontman in the box, Arsenal might have suffered the repercussions more severely.
Besides, might argue that Mesut Ozil’s artistry went missing but he opened up CSKA’s defence with his ghosting movement inside the width of the opposition box.
Thus, every time the ball was glued to his feet he was doubled up by two defenders leaving either Aaron Ramsey or Alexandre Lacazette unmarked in the box to put the chances away.
And it was also Ozil’s through ball that set up Ramsey’s mouthwatering second strike which saw him chip goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to send the home supporters into raptures.
Manager Victor Goncharenko’s men struggled to keep pace with Ramsey and Lacazette who were outstanding, scoring four goals between them. And the scoreline could have looked even more terrible for the Russians had the Wales international not twice been denied by the crossbar.
In fact Ramsey, who is entering the final year of his contract next season, has done nothing to detract potential suitors with his man of the match performance. Yet, his second goal should be shown to kids in the football academies all around the world, as it was breathtaking.
Arsenal have yet again proven that they can deal with pressure by convincingly playing their opponents off the park. The days when they flattered to deceive have long gone.
But what have we learned about Arsenal yesterday?
Ospina is good but Cech is better
With his own future hanging in the balance should Arsenal fail to win the Europa League and thus miss out on back-to-back Champions League qualifications, Wenger decided to play Petr Cech in goal ahead of David Ospina.
The Colombian international was promised that he was the club’s first-choice in Europe but a mysterious injury sidelined him for yesterday’s clash.
The former Nice goalkeeper will not have taken the exclusion well as his future in North London has been hanging in the balance since the start of the season.
The media in Columbia have indicated that he will call it a day at the end of the season in search of regular first-team football.
Cech’s superior game-reading, shot stopping abilities and international experience mean that, should Arsenal emerge unscathed in the return leg next week, he will be given preferential treatment for as long as Arsenal are in the competition.
There was nothing he could have done to save Aleksandr Golovin’s perfectly-hit free-kick yesterday.
Wenger’s job safer than ever but…
Unlike on previous occasions when the Arsenal faithful made their feelings about Wenger known by calling for his head and holding up anti-Wenger banners, yesterday a peaceful atmosphere took place around the Emirates.
Yet, should Arsenal win their first-ever Europa League and secure automatic Champions League qualification through the back door, Wenger will be allowed to see out the remainder of his twelve-month contract.
It has been twelve years since Arsenal last qualified for the semi-final of a European competition. Back in 2006, they even reached the final, only to lose against Barcelona after keeper Jens Lehmann’s early dismissal. However, reaching the final and failing to win the Europa League won’t be enough to save Wenger’s job this time around.
Lacazette is back
France international Lacazette marked the occasion with a fine performance that resulted in a brace. His first strike came from the penalty spot, while he scored his second goal with the outside of his left boot. True, apart from that he was anonymous but Arsenal broke the bank to sign him first and foremost for his finishing qualities and ruthlessness in front of goal.
The high price tag and the fact that he was expected to hit the ground running might have slowed his progress down but big players deliver when it counts. His new found confidence and composure in front of goal helped Arsenal to a comfortable win.
And yesterday was testament to why he is France manager Didier Deschamps’ first-choice option, ahead of Olivier Giroud and Anthony Martial.
If his scintillating form carries on, Arsenal and France have a good chance of ending the year 2018 on a high note. Finally.
Wilshere must stay
Arsene Wenger must do whatever it takes to tie Jack Wilshere down to a long contract even if that means giving in and satisfying his wage demands.
Wilshere has been offered a new contract but on reduced terms as the club fear that he might suffer yet another long-term injury.
But in that position there aren’t many better players around and Wenger would be a fool to let him go just now.
At the start of the season he was a dead man walking but he has become the Gunners’ heartbeat thanks to his consistency, inventiveness, intelligent movements, accurate passing and positional sense.
Besides, he wins possession with his snappy tackles and looks as though he is finally becoming the player everybody expected him to turn into when taking the footballing world by storm back in 2011.
Barring Ozil, nobody can read the game like he does and nobody in the team loves Arsenal more than him.
He delivers week-in, week-out and deserves every penny he demands.
Arsenal TV will have nothing to talk about
As Arsenal right-back Hector Bellerin pointed out in February, Arsenal TV feeds off failure.
Arsenal Fan TV are synonymous with praise in the same way Italy is synonymous with this year’s World Cup.
Robbie and co. surely had nothing to talk about in the aftermath of the Russians’ capitulation yesterday.