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Football Reporting


Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Relentless Gunners roar into Europa League semi-finals

A brilliant first half burst from Arsenal paved the way for a smooth progression through to the Europa League semi-finals at Slavia Prague’s expense.

Having been held to a 1-1 draw by the Czech side in the first leg, the Gunners roared into action in the second and throught they’d took the lead when Emile Smith Rowe saw his effort ruled out for offside.

The youngster soon teed up Nicolas Pepe for the opener though, with Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty and a fine strike from Bukayo Saka ensuring that the Gunners had scored three goals inside six minutes to dazzle their hosts.

Lacazette grabbed his second in the second period as Arsenal eased to a 5-1 aggregate win, and they will face Villarreal in the last four.

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Here are the game’s talking points.

1. Arsenal have a lot to thank the Europa League for

Smith Rowe and Saka both cut their teeth in this competition
Smith Rowe and Saka both cut their teeth in this competition

The name of Vorskla Poltava may not mean much to the rest of us, but the Ukrainians could end up as a fairly significant footnote in Arsenal history.

Because it was against that fairly modest opposition back in 2018 that Smith Rowe and Saka made their senior Gunners debuts.

Smith Rowe’s came in the home game, a 4-2 win, in the Europa League group stages back then, and by the time Saka made his bow in the away match ‘The Croydon De Bruyne’ was scoring in a 3-0 victory.

Both players owe a lot to the tournament then, and by association so do Arsenal.

The Europa League may be derided, but it could just have provided a couple of future superstars with their first few steps in the game.

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2. A test of character

Pepe fired home shortly after Smith Rowe's disallowed goal
Pepe fired home shortly after Smith Rowe’s disallowed goal

Yep, they have VAR in the Europa League too. But this isn’t really about VAR, honestly.

Smith Rowe was – eventually – proven to be offside when he thought he’d opened the scoring in Prague, but it was the manner that he and his teammates reacted to the disappointment that proved most impressive.

They simply picked themselves up, dusted themselves down and immediately scored a legitimate goal through Pepe.

There was no sign of feeling sorry for themselves, and that has to be a huge plus for Arteta.

3. Granit Xhaka’s new position

Xhaka started at left-back for the second game in a row
Xhaka started at left-back for the second game in a row

Often a cumbersome, yellow-card-waiting-to-happen in midfield, this was Granit Xhaka’s second successive start at left-back for Arsenal, and it was the second successive time he did rather well.

Okay, Sheffield United and especially Slavia weren’t the most difficult of opponents, but playing him there is certainly preferred to shifting back Saka, as the young Englishman has long since proven that he is needed further up the pitch.

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If anything this could be a move that prolongs Xhaka’s Arsenal career, and it certainly something for Arteta to keep on considering going forward.

4. Yellow Submarine ahead

Arteta's side will face Villarreal in the last four
Arteta’s side will face Villarreal in the last four

And so Arteta can now wear the smooth, satisfied smile of a major European competition semi-finalist, with a blast from the Gunners past waiting for his side in the last four.

Villarreal will be the opposition, 15 years on from Arsenal’s nervy Champions League semi-final victory over ‘The Yellow Submarine’ when Jens Lehmann memorably saved a Juan Roman Riquelme penalty.

Arsene Wenger’s side did get past them but didn’t get the job done in the final.

If Arteta can – and there is every chance to believe that he can – then a disappointing Premier League campaign can surely be glossed over.

Time to get the submarine in their crosshairs.

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5. Brilliant, Alexandre Lacazette

Lacazette took a knee directly in front of the Slavia players
Lacazette took a knee directly in front of the Slavia players

There was a captain’s performance during the game from Lacazette as he scored two goals, and there was also one before it as well.

The Frenchman’s hugely symbolic gesture to take a knee directly in front of the Slavia players – with his teammates supporting him behind – was one that would have been seen around the world.

The argument that such gestures have lost their impact when they are rolled out before each and every game does have some merit, but when it is done like this? No chance.

Lacazette was excellent in Prague, in all ways.

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