Mikel Arteta has been accused of prioritising caution at times, but last night he sent out an attacking line-up and it paid off.
In 24 minutes we completely overran Slavia Prague, scored three good goals and were a Rizla paper away from having a fourth. We looked like a team that knew what it was about in all departments.
After that early goal burst the tie was over. So over, in fact, that the Prague coach subbed off four of his first-teamers at half time, clearly deciding it was better to save them for domestic competition than waste their energy in a lost cause.
The team performance was good throughout and wiped away the frustration of the first leg, during which we had spurned several good chances to make the tie safe and allowed Prague to score a late equaliser.
Now the semi final awaits, in the shape of Villareal and the spectre of Uni Emery.
Emery’s tenure in N5 is not fondly remembered by most Gooners, but his side pose a serious obstacle between us and a Europa League final. As a manager he has won the competition three times and took Arsenal to a final (about which the less said the better).
We can worry about Emery and his team in two weeks time (the press will have a field day with that storyline), but for now we can bask in a very accomplished away win and the fact that we have scored seven goals in our last two games.
We knew we had to score in Prague and El Patron selected a team that would give us the best chance of doing so. Odegaard was not available through injury and the captain, Aubameyang, was unwell (it was revealed he is suffering from malaria: blood sucking parasites are a problem in football, but usually they’re called agents).
Nevertheless, we still had plenty of attacking firepower to choose from and a front four of Lacazette with Saka, Smith Rowe and Pepe behind looked promising. Partey and Ceballos had the midfield duty while Xhaka was used at left back again, Chambers at RB and a Holding-Mari partnership in the middle. Leno was in goal and hoping for his first clean sheet since before he started shaving.
The Xhaka at LB thing is interesting. He is properly left footed (which is good) and is a very neat footballer who’s comfortable on the ball (also good), but he’s not fast (less good) and is therefore not the sort of fullback who’s going to be bombing up and down the line. However, as a way of managing the absence of Kieran Tierney it clearly has merit.
As I’ve mentioned, we started very much on the front foot and had the ball in the net after 14 minutes. A lovely move ended with Saka firing a goal-bound shot across the Prague ‘keeper who did well to tip it onto the post. It rebounded kindly for Smith Rowe to stroke home only for VAR to rule it out for the most fractional of offsides.
Our disappointment did not last long. Four minutes later some beautiful footwork from Smith Rowe at the apex of the Prague area ended with him nutmegging a defender to slide the ball to Pepe. The Ivorian stayed strong despite the attentions of another defender, dummied the ‘keeper then lifted the ball into the net from a tight angle. One-nil and the vital away goal in the bag.
Three minutes later the excellent Saka was brought down in the penalty area and Lacazette (captain for the night) sent the goalie the wrong way with a well taken spot kick. And after another three minutes we were three up when Saka drove into the area from the right, shaped to shoot to the far post (the ‘keeper’s right) but instead slotted home cleverly at the near post, leaving the goalie rooted to the spot.
After that it was all about game management – and we did, indeed, manage the game well. With such a comfortable lead we inevitably eased up a little and Prague were finally able to make some attacking headway of their own, but they seldom caused us any real trouble. All our back four did well and the Holding-Mari partnership was very good (again).
Given the amount of scars we Arsenal fans have from self-inflicted wounds I suspect no-one really relaxed until Lacazette killed off any minuscule Prague hopes with a fourth in the 77th minute, displaying some gorgeous footwork to bamboozle the defender and fire home.
In the later minutes there were runs-out for Elneny, Martinelli, Nketiah, Cedric and Balogun as we coasted to a well earned win.
A friend texted to say it reminded him of the time when the great Arsenal teams of the early Wenger years would kill a game stone dead inside half an hour with three or four goals then spend the rest of the match taking it easy while not letting the opposition have a sniff of goal.
Leno – 6
Very little to do.
Chambers – 7
He looked very strong in defence and continued to contribute well going forward. It’s nice to see the rehabilitation of a talented young English player continue apace.
Holding – 7
Rock solid. He seems to play particularly well with Mari.
Mari – 7
The more I see of Mari the more I like. He has an air of composed confidence about him and he is also a big unit who seems to relish the physical battles.
Xhaka – 7
Having a good left-footed passer like Xhaka at LB improves our ability to play out from the back compared with using a right footer like Cedric. Granit did his job well.
Partey – 7
I still feel we’re a long way from seeing the best of Thomas, but he had a good game last night particularly in the first half and was a big contributing factor to our early dominance.
Ceballos – 7
I have been harsh on Dani after some of his recent poor performances, but he has now had two good games back to back and I’m delighted for him and us. He worked hard and played some very nice passes in the attacking third.
Saka – 8
What a little bundle of talent. Every time he picked up the ball on the right the Prague defenders looked terrified. Was unlucky not to have an assist with the disallowed goal and scored a beauty.
Smith Rowe – 8
I know I sound like a stuck record, but I just love watching this kid. The first time passes, that way of always playing on the half turn, the sublime first touch, the incredible footwork, the footballing intelligence. I honestly think he could be a £100m player in a couple of years if he can stay free of injuries.
Pepe – 8
Took his goal with aplomb and was part of some excellent moves. In an attacking line-up like the one we sent out last night he can really shine. Forget the price tag, if he continues performing like this he is very much a first team player.
Lacazette – 8 (MoTM)
I suspect most people would give MoTM to Saka but I think Laca played a real captain’s innings last night. Aside from his two goals he worked really hard, dropping deep at times to help start attacks with quick passing and feet. We know the younger players look up to him and last night it showed how much they enjoy playing with him. He should wear the armband for the foreseeable future, assuming Auba will be out for a while.
Elneny – 6
Cedric – 6
Nketiah – 6
Didn’t get much opportunity to shine but it was nice to see him get minutes.
Martinelli – 7
Unlucky not to score after a great run into the box (his shot bobbled just wide of the post).
Balogun – 6
Didn’t have time to get much of a look-in, but it was good to see him on the pitch. The mood music around keeping him at N5 is sounding more positive.
“We looked like a team” a short sentence that speaks volumes.
Great winning write up, you don’t get many of those for the price of a cup of tea now-a-days.
Thank you Rocky. Enjoyed your report while still basking in the afterglow of a thrilling performance. Xhaka really does look good at left back, and Calum Chambers brings so much to right back. Along with the unflappable CBs, the defence looks strong.
In these two games, it’s been interesting to see how Arteta has tweaked the midfield. Ceballos seems to have freedom to roam, and is more often seen up top than lying deep. This leaves Thomas Partey as the lone wall, and he seems so much more comfortable in the role. Could it be that having a deep midfield partner like Xhaka or Elneny confuses and diminishes him?
It was joyous to see the brio with which the team played – Pepe must have run two marathons, and he was still chasing about in the ninetieth minute, harrying the Slaves of Prague. Let’s hope he can do the same to Dick’s Real Town in the semis.
Thanks Rocky, this is the best morning read I had for a long time.
We had these flashes earlier of Arsenal irresitible capabilities although without the end-product like against Wolves or the Hammers but we needed some games like yesterday or on last Sunday to help born confidence within the team.
It was a joy watching us last night.
LB: “you don’t get many of those for the price of a cup of tea” – I haven’t heard that one for a decade or three 😀
Fascinating observation about Partey being more comfortable alongside a more forward-minded midfield partner. I wrote a Post a little while back about how Gilberto (the famous ‘Invisible Wall’ of the Invincibles) really rated Partey as a DM, and of course Gilberto really was the sole dedicated DM (although having Vieira alongside him must have been useful). Perhaps you’re right – although whether it would be the right approach against a really top team might remain to be seen.
Agreed. The last two games in particular have been unusual in how stress-free they have been for us long suffering fans. All we need now is for Everton to beat the Spuds tonight, then for us to bet Fulham on Sunday, and we’re only a point behind the noisy neighbours.
Emile Smith-Rowe 9
Mari had a 93% pass rate, made six clearances, and had a100% success rate in aerial duels.
Holding, Mari, Saliba, Gabriel, Mavrapanos….who needs another centre back?
That was our best performance this season, no doubt.
Saka & ESR were phenomenal.
Chambers is a much better option at right back than Bellerin. He might not have Hector’s pace, but his positioning is much better and he wants to defend.
Mari & Chambers look a good pairing. Their lack of pace worries me a little.
Pepe is a much better player coming from the left.
Roll on the semis!
ESR & Saka looked like they had more freedom to weave their magic without Odegaard in the side.
Maybe crowbarring all 3 into the side reduces their effectiveness.
Pepe/ESR/Saka behind Laca or PEA looks more balanced and dynamic.
Great celebration of the performance, thank you Rocky. As you say, to be able to enjoy watching us play without the angst of wondering who was going to make a cataclysmic mistake is a rare luxury. If we keep on playing this team and avoid any more than 2-3 changes every game I reckon we can expect this form to continue.
Leno had nothing much to do in the game but there were times when he had the ball at his feet and you could see him procrastinating … should I pass to him, should I pass it there? A more ambitious team than SP would have capitalised but he had time and space yesterday. I’d just like to see him exude confidence and control rather than dithering.
Thanks Rocky. I suppose the detractors will say ” yeah but its only Prague”, but the old adage of you can only beat what’s in front if you rings true and Prague had a terrific unbeaten home record before we rocked up last night.
We didn’t just beat them, we beat them. I would love a comment from jjgsol today. Not wanting to call him out or shame him but for the sake of balance it’s far easier to take any negative comments after a bad game with how a blogger sees it after a good game. If you only turn up to comment in the bad moments it’s hard to sway me to your views.
The Partey mention from Maxwell was a good shout and maybe this is our last formation progression, to play with only 1 DM instead if 2 sitting deep with the others all getting further forward. Ceballos and Lacazette will be giving MA much food for thought as to what he does with them this summer.
Very good comment re Odegaard. He has looked really good for us, but I felt he diminished the role of ESR, so maybe shoe-horning them all in does not make sense and Ode/ESR should be an either/or.
One of the very few negative feelings I had in that game was whenever the ball went back to Leno, especially early on before we had a three goal buffer.
Undefeated at home for yonks, beat Rangers and Leicester, everyone of opening 11 was an International. Bah!
Thanks for a wonderful post-match report.
I agree with both you and Rasper about your lingering doubts about Leno whenever he is trying to work out who he should pass the ball to and whether it should it be a throw, or a kick.
On one occasion he had the ball at his feet, and dribbled slowly across goal looking for a team mate to pass to, and almost lost it to a SP forward with less than a second to clear it — straight to another SP player.
Maybe my aversion to ‘playing from the back’ is caused by Leno?
A brilliant game, and it was a nice touch when MA let Martinelli and Balogun get a few minutes in a European quarter final.
Pepe is beginning to show he has the makings of a top player after all.
I prefer Granite at left back to be candid, and with all our CBs, he is a good deputy for Tierney and will save us precious money while Gabriel takes his midfield place,
I’d much prefer Azeez as a free floater, or even Chambers in with Partey rather than moving Gabriel forward.
You have a very succinct way of voicing your displeasure, and as I agree with you, re the ‘it’s only Spavia Prague’ I am off to practise my ‘Bahs’ too.
Boooo to the ‘it’s only’ crowd. 👎
If it helps to temporarily keep Xhaka in a position that seems to suit him, and move someone else forward from our cornucopia of defenders, I think it would be worth it.
I suspect we both know it will not happen, and if I could magic that, I would put Zach Medley in midfield instead, and put Gabriel back as a CB, with Soares in the left back position.
However, it was such a good win last night I would probably leave the team as it was with the defence as it was, including Granit at LB — he did play pretty well.
Thanks for the post Rocky!
Yesterday, I had divided the team performance into three standards:
1. Gold Standard: Saka, ESR, Laca, Pepe
2. Silver Standard: Chambers, Mari, Xhaka, Partey, Ceba
3. Bronze standard: Leno, Holding
I d like to bring Mari to Gold now because he was composed and effective. I thought Holding was good but not as good as the other defenders so he remains Bronze and Leno didn’t have anything to do.
Let us beat Unai and then Ole to lift the EL Cup 🙂
Imagine if Arteta wins the FA Cup in his first season and the EL Cup in the second…
In terms of CBs, we have:
Holding, Gabriel, Mari and then we could either go for Mavro, Saliba or Luiz.
If we decide to not renew Luiz, then you would still need to choose between Mavro and Saliba (the one who is not picked should go back on loan) and it wouldn’t hurt to bring in someone like Romero or Tarkowski to the squad in any case…If we really want starter to join us, then go for someone like Koulibaly.
I think we will part ways with Bellerin this summer as it seems that Chambers can be a good back-up. We will invest in a RB for sure though. I d like to see Emerson join us.
In terms of back-up for Tierney, we may either keep Cedric and AMN or say good-bye to one or both and accodomate a new LB.
In terms of DM/CM, I think Arteta and Edu will go to the market too.
Let us see but just in terms of defensive players, it is looking like that for next year IMHO:
RECRUIT, Chambers, Holding, Mavro (or Recruit), Gabriel, Mari, Tierney, Cedric, RECRUIT
That must have felt much better to write about.
Just one note, many others have already commented on aspects of the game.
The Chambers, Holding, Mari, Xhaka looked solid and calm!
They are an example, in this game, of more than the sum of their parts. Long may it be.
Bring on Emery and co.
One thing that both Chambers and Xhaka bring to playing the FB roles is that they have both shown they are comfortable on the ball in the centre of midfield (Xhaka for us and Chambers when on loan at Fulham).
I think that means their all round footballing ability and comfort in tight situations is better than ether Bellerin’s or Cedric’s.
That back four last night looked like they enjoyed playing together.
I watched the FA Youth Cup between Arsenal and Wham last night.
It was excellent not just because we won 3 : 1 but because the skills of the team were outstanding, and in particular watch out for a small bombshell called Hutchinson, who is a winger with great pace and goalscoring skill.
I only ever want to see totnum lose, but the draw with Everton was the best result for us to keep our faint chance of top 6 alive. We all know how the tiny totts buckle under pressure 😂
Lacazette is finishing the season on a high. He may even lead us to glory in the Europa Cup and the Champions League next season.
Should we extend his contract ( like Aubang, please not like Aubang!!) or cash in on a player who could otherwise be holding up the development of Martinelli and Balogun?
Azeez played in the youth team last night – silky skills, clever passes – Ace.
Probably to help the other youngsters but maybe keeping up his fitness ready for the next EL round.
Or maybe not — but a pleasure to watch him.
Anyone else see the game?
Yes RA. I was lucky enough to come across a stream by West Ham on YouTube, and watched the whole game. I like Azeez, and like you, have been rating him for quite a while. However, there were others who also made an impression. The two fullbacks, Norton-Cuffy and Ogungbo, are serious physical units – big, strong, athletic, fierce and skilful. Likewise the two cbs, although they didn’t excite me so comprehensively, and the goalie, Ejeheri, is going to be a fearsome mountain. All quite a change from the willowy youths of former times: is this Per’s input? I’m a huge fan of Omari Hutchinson, since a video of him aged nine appeared online, and it seems he’s not just a flash in the pan, but is growing into a seriously exciting footballer. Flores looks promisingly tricky with an eye for a pass. The two forwards, Edwards and Taylor-Hart are going to be like Balogun in another year.
Exciting times on the youth conveyer belt!
LBG – a difficult one. Laca is my favourite player over the past three seasons. He rarely leaves anything out on the pitch. My preference would be to move Aubamayang on, not because he’s done anything wrong, his current slump notwithstanding, but as many have observed on here, he doesn’t fit well with Arteta’s design. I would then offer Laca a limited extension, maybe two years, but heavily incentivised, so that the base number wasn’t too eye watering. Mind you, I wish they’d do that with ALL contracts! He seems to have such a positive effect on the young players, he’d be worth retaining as they develop.
A perfect analysis, Maxwell, and I agree with all of that! 😛
I was having a nice glass of wine (or two) having just got home and the quality go the team shows real promise for the future.
The GK, Ejeheri, could be special too, and he is a big ‘un – like me. Actually, I am taller and weigh 20 stone at the mo’, but my days of playing are long over.😛
He did make a Leno like mistake for the Wham goal, but that’s just experience.
I watched on Twitch – the official Arsenal channel which is free, and did not take long to set up.
(Don’t take anything I say too seriously on the other matter — I tease when I am bored — sorry for any offence.)
Spurs cant hold onto a lead, and that’s vinyl!
I didn’t, RA, but thanks for the apo anyway. What I watched had a very reasonable WHam commentary: who did the twitch for Arsenal? As I’m also large and 20 stone, I’m not sure I’m up to twitching. What do I need to do?
Maxwell and RA
So debate over. All in agreement say aye. Wish everything was so simple!
I ll put a post up shortly
There is two “Twitch” sides to this, and you will need a smart TV – I use an LG 60″ but other brands have the same facility if they are not too old. 🤪
On the basis that you have a suitable TV, you need to press the TV controller, and click along to “LG Content Store”
press the icon, and it will take you into a screen showing ‘Apps’ — if Twitch does not automatically open, type ‘Twitch’ into the search button and it will open, and it will confirm it is for Free — download the APP and then Launch.
– if ‘Arsenal Twitch’ does not show, again, type that into the search button and it will open, and you will find many Arsenal screens.
Last night I simply clicked on West Ham v Arsenal Youth cup screen, and there we were.
Or you could simply stick with You Tube. 👍
I did not get the names of the two Arsenal commentators, but they were really big fans, so if you want to know who they were, their will probably be a match report of last night’s game will be shown on the Arsenal internet today, and if you run that I think they will be the same lads, as it seems that Arsenal are going to use Twitch as the official Arsenal site in the future.
How is it every season the relegated sides always beat us , last year Aston Villa, season before Brighton, season before that Southampton sigh
Monumental dive. Not a pen.