Arsenal were staring the possibility of UEFA Europa League elimination in the face before late Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey confirmed their place in the semi-finals at the expense of CSKA Moscow.
The Russians were just one goal away from knocking out an abject Arsenal on away goals after goals either side of half-time from Fedor Chalvo and Kirill Nababkin.
However Welbeck’s sweetly-taken goal with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining put his side 5-3 up on aggregate and instantaneously destroyed CSKA’s fight, with Aaron Ramsey wrapping it up in stoppage time to book a first European semi-final in nine years.
Arsenal wobbling after Chalov narrows deficit
CSKA’S title hopes in Russia took a big blow as they lost to city rivals Dinamo Moscow on Monday, and Viktor Goncharenko altered five of his team from that game. Vasili Berezutski, Konstantin Kuchaev and Aleksandr Golovin returned after starting the first leg, whilst Kristijan Bistrovic and Chalov also came in. After making numerous changes for the Premier League win against Southampton on Sunday, Arsène Wenger made six changes – Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Özil, plus the scorers from the 4-1 first leg win, Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette all returned to the starting line-up.
The Gunners were presumably in charge of this game before kick-off, but after the dramatic comebacks in the UEFA Champions League this week – not to mention their own away record – they could take nothing for granted. The game got off to a cagey start, with Arsenal guilty of being a little sloppy. Koscielny was guilty of a couple of mistakes at the back, one of which allowed Alan Dzagoev to put a cross into the box – it was over-hit, however.
The first chance of real note came with just after 20 minutes played, as Bistrovic put an attempt wide. Dzagoev, who didn’t see the first half out due to injury, then saw a shot blocked outside the box by Koscielny, which saw Arsenal, through Özil, launch a counter. Welbeck found Lacazette at the other end of the pitch, however his shot was blocked by Aleksei Berezutski. Further attacks followed, but Ramsey had a ball in the box cleared before a cross on another counter failed to find those waiting in the box.
With six minutes left in the first half, CSKA took the lead on the night. Kuchaev cross from the left was headed on goal by Nababkin, with Monreal, stood in front of him, somewhat wilting at the ball. Petr Čech saved Nababkin’s header, but didn’t push it far away enough from goal and Chalov put in the rebound. It was his second goal of the season, having scored his first from the bench on Monday
The wheels were wobbling for Arsenal in the closing stages of the half. Vitinho, Dzagoev’s replacement, fired over, Bistrovic went wide after Arsenal failed to clear a corner before Nababkin also tried to threaten their goal with the final kick of the half. They also had to play several minutes after Ramsey had a cut to his leg seen too, whilst Wilshere also picked up a knock in stoppage time. They would have been relieved to hear the half-time whistle.
Arsenal on the brink before Welbeck saves the day
CSKA were clearly full of confidence even after the break, and a clear move to defence for Mohamed Elneny did little to dampen their momentum. Welbeck’s attempt to find Ramsey was taken by Igor Akinfeev, and then Golovin, who scored CSKA’s away goal at the Emirates Stadium last week, struck from range. Čech made a meal of the save, little more than flapping at it, and Nababkin pounced to bring his side potentially one goal from progressing to the semi-finals.
They nearly did get that goal, and it came again from Golovin. His free-kick beat the wall, but this time Čech made a decisive save to put it wide. Arsenal looked a mess, but for a brief moment they thought they had cancelled out their hosts’ away-goal advantage. A good move ended with a Hector Bellerín cross being headed in by Elneny, but both he and Lacazette were cleared offside and they couldn’t fool the German linesman.
With that goal chalked off, Arsenal still hadn’t had a shot on target, with Lacazette then firing over before a Koscielny volley from a corner did likewise. They had another fright after that, when a ball cleared by Elneny fell with Sergei Ignashevich easily beating Özil to the ball. He then fired from outside the box, but it went wide.
Wenger’s men were soon able to breathe again, with their lord and saviour being Welbeck. He took the ball on the left of the field, moving central before passing to Elneny. He then put a delightful ball through into the box, with Welbeck on the end of it to neatly curl past Akinfeev. CSKA went from needing one to win to needing two just to force extra time.
All of the confidence sapped out of the home side in that single moment, whilst the life seemed to drain out of a crowd that had been boisterous all evening. It was all Arsenal, as Alex Iwobi went hopelessly wide after he was found by Özil whilst a Welbeck shot was saved by Akinfeev. They then salvaged a draw on the evening, as another good assist from Elneny in stoppage time found Ramsey. Like Welbeck, he perfectly timed his shot to beat Akinfeev and confirm Arsenal’s place in Friday’s semi-final draw.