Three and easy. Four a bore?
There are teams who play in bursts and able to score more than one goal in short periods. Arsenal did this, scoring three goals in a six-minute period against Slavia Prague. It is a good habit. Opposition teams fear them.
This game was a tall order, pre-match. Not ideal with Odergaard injured and Aubameyang out with the after-effects of malaria and not travelling. Gabriel, arguably Arsenal’s best defender and Martinelli were on the bench? Ceballos started instead of Elneny – well the team needed a goal.
But Arteta-ball at its best. A fast counter-attack style.
Slavia had problems of their own. Kudela’s ten game ban, following the Rangers’ outrage. Zima on the bench injured. But they were 31 games unbeaten at home. And half of those games the away team including Leicester and Leverkusen didn’t score. They also had 750 fans in the stadium.
Saka and Smith Rowe linked up well with the former shooting against the post, and the Croydon geezer tapping it home. It was millimetres offside. But the disappointment deterred neither showing the good habits instilled at the Arsenal academy.
Next it was two nutmegs and some Pepe spice. Smith Rowe wriggled and dribbled in the area setting up Pepe with the second nutmeg who resisted falling in the area and with nifty footwork and a delay saw him lift it over Kolar at close range and into the net.
Then Smith Rowe chased a lofted ball down the right and he crossed to an incoming Saka who was felled by Hromada in the area. Lacazette sent Kolar the wrong way with the penalty.
Then Chambers set Saka away on the right. He drove in looked at the goal, gave the keeper the eyes and shot home into the opposite corner.
Could Arsenal let in 4? Memories of Newcastle….nah… not today.
An Arsenal match without tension. Unbelievable.
One of the first meaningful Slavia attacks came on 37 when Olayinka drove down the right and backheeled to Bah, who fired way over.
Arsenal dropped back in the last 15 of the first half with some solid defending.
Slavia made four substitutes at half time with four key players going off and pressed – ending with Zima firing in – deflected for a corner.
But boring, boring Arsenal turned it into a successful game management exercise. And Elneny came on for Smith Rowe.
Xhaka set Pepe away on the left. He found Lacazette on the six-yard line. The captain controlled it, moved it from his right to left foot and fired home.
Martinelli came on for Lacazette, went on a great run, turning left then cutting in on the right and firing just wide of the post.
Bukayo Saka paid his thanks to God ‘we are in a semi-final’. “The fans deserve it. We kept going. And killed the game in the first half. The way the coaching staff set us up they couldn’t get out. It shows everyone what we can do. How exiting we can be. The key is not to make mistakes.”
Mikel Arteta said: “We started well. We were convincing, aggressive, had a high press. We looked threatening. There was a good reaction after the disallowed goal.
“We scored some great goals. The clean sheet was important. It helped the way we played against Sheffield United. The individual performances were good – so the collective improved.
“It was an important performance against a strong team. Credit to the players. There has been no consistency (in personnel) in the back four during the year. But there are a lot of things we can improve on today’s performance.”
Slavia Prague: 1Kolar, 5Bah (Substituted for Višinský at 45’minutes), 3Holes, 6Zima, 18Boril (Substituted for Dorley at 45’minutes), 25Hromada (Booked at 20mins, Substituted for Masopust at 45’minutes), 23Sevcik, 17Provod, 7Stanciu (Substituted for Lingr at 45’minutes), 9Oladeji Olayinka (Booked at 63mins), 16Kuchta (Substituted for Tecl at 71’minutes)
Arsenal: 1Leno, 21Chambers, 16Holding, 22Marí, 34Xhaka, 18Partey (Substituted for Cédric Soares at 79’minutes), 8Ceballos, 7Saka (Substituted for Martinelli at 79’minutes, Booked at 82mins), 32Smith Rowe (Substituted for Elneny at 67’minutes), 19Pépé (Substituted for Balogun at 88’minutes), 9Lacazette (Substituted for Nketiah at 79’minutes)