Arsenal’s journey in the 2020/21 season has been a fraught and tough ordeal, complete with ups and downs along the way, but the one place that fans have been able to find solace is in the team’s European run.
Though the team narrowly lost at home to Olympiacos in the Round of 16, Arsenal have come through the competition fairly unscathed and with the quarter-final draw meaning they avoided a visit from their old adversary Manchester United or from former boss Unai Emery, it seems Arsenal got off lightly with their draw with Slavia Prague.
Arsenal started off as well as they could in the match with a few chances created here and there, but it was an ultimately drab and dreary first-half, culminating in the game’s first anti-climax as Bukayo Saka drove his easier-to-score effort past the far post. Though the linesman had raised his flag, VAR would have no-doubt overruled the decision in Saka’s favour had been able to convert the chance.
As half-time came and passed, Arsenal seemed to improve a fair bit. Slavia were, as their manager Jindřich Trpišovský said at full-time, not playing well. They created a fair few opportunities and tested Bernd Leno once or twice, but it was ultimately the home side to home the lion share of chances fell to.
Perhaps the most clearcut chance fell to Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman expertly deposed the defender on the halfway line leaving him the entire half with which to sprint into, bearing down on goal, the former-Lyon man took aim and scoop his shot over the onrushing keeper only for it to…hit the bar.
Had their been fans in the stadium they would have no doubt have already started celebrating, but to see the effort rattle off the crossbar was the sort of denial that Michael Haneke would have been proud of.
Eventually, the deadlock was broken. The introduction of Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé provided Arsenal with some much needed firepower and soon Pépé found himself through on goal from Aubameyang’s through ball, only for the Ivorian to dink the ball just over the grounded goalkeeper and into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead.
It was a well-deserved goal; Arsenal had been much the better side and had totally run the game up to that point and were perhaps unlucky not to have a second or third either side of it.
But as Arsenal fans know, most Arsenal games do not have easy endings or indeed happy ones and this was very much the latter. A poorly defended corner saw Tomáš Holeš head in the equaliser at the far-post to give his side the all-important away goal and break Arsenal hearts just as the final-whistle blew out.
It was a heartbreaking, albeit entirely predictable outcome for Mikel Arteta’s mentally weak Arsenal side. The lack of composure, the total indifference to the acceptable norms of defending, the total preventability of the goal itself summed up Arsenal this season.
The goal had come about because makeshift left-back Cédric Soares, presumably at Arteta’s insistence, decided to play the ball back rather than launch the ball forward, which sold Gabriel Magalhães short and the rest was history.
Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back when it clearly doesn’t suit the team is both amusing and infuriating and has cost Arsenal many times this season. It’s plain to see that Arsenal are simply not up to playing the tactic Arteta wishes to play and that the team needs some vital changes.
The lateness of the substations in the game did little to aid Arteta’s dwindling stock with the fanbase. Lacazette, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe looked to be struggling as did Thomas Partey, yet Arteta seemed uninterested in looking at the bench to changes the game.
The decision to not select captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another baffling decision. Though the tactic had worked well in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, it was perhaps a shade too far in a do-or-die Europa League tie.
Arsenal now have it all to do in Prague before a strip to Sheffield United, but a serious shift in mentality is needed if Arsenal want to be in Europe next season.
1.) Bernd Leno
2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Elneny 78′)
7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 78′)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ceballos 88′)
12.) Willian (Martinelli 73′)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Aubameyang 78′)
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
22.) Pablo Marí
49.) Joel López
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
8.) Dani Ceballos
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
Slavia Prague team:
1.) Ondřej Kolář
5.) Alexander Bah
3.) Tomáš Holeš
6.) David Zima
18.) Jan Bořil (c)
7.) Nicolae Stanciu (Masopust 84′)
25.) Jakub Hromada (Ševčík 45′)
17.) Lukáš Provod
19.) Oscar Dorley (Lingr 69′)
12.) Abdallah Sima (Kutcha 69′)
9.) Peter Olayinka (Traoré 85′)
Slavia Prague subs:
13.) Jan Stejskal
31.) Přemsyl Kovář
23.) Petr Ševčík
32.) Ondrej Lingr
27.) Ibrahim Traoré
41.) Denis Višinský
28.) Lukáš Masopust
16.) Jan Kutcha
11.) Stanislav Tecl