It was over in 6 minutes. Before things were 25 minutes old, goals from Nicolas Pépé, Alexandre Lacazette (pen), and Bukayo Saka completely took the sting out of what could have been a nervy match for the Gunners. Lacazette picked up his brace in the second half as Arsenal thrashed Slavia Prague 4-0.
Emile Smith Rowe looked to have gotten Arsenal off the mark 15 minutes in, depositing the off-the-post rebound from a Bukayo Saka shot into the back of the net, but VAR determined he’d strayed offside by half a boot length. Minutes later, Smith Rowe fought to keep the ball alive on the edge of the area, beat two men, and slipped a pass to Nicolas Pépé who deftly chipped the keeper. Overall, ESR was excellent on the evening and really is a difference-maker for Arsenal. Arsenal have won 12 matches since Christmas — Emile Smith Rowe has started in 10 of those wins.
Bukayo Saka was dominant, as he usually is. I’ve been critical of his finishing lately, so it’s only fair that I compliment his goal. On the run, he froze the keeper with a look to the far post and slotted it into the near corner — a fantastic take. Nicolas Pépé was just as good on the other wing, and he picked up an assist on Lacazette’s second of the evening.
Tonight was a perfect illustration of the need for runners on both wings if Mikel Arteta wants to play Alexandre Lacazette through the middle. As Aidan wrote earlier this week, balance is the most important thing for Arsenal to have a successful attack. Having someone who can get in behind on either side is critically important. Mikel Arteta has got to get the right mix of players on the pitch together as opposed to jamming all the “good” ones on at once. And he got it right against Slavia Prague.
And credit where it’s due for Alexandre Lacazette. He’s picked up his scoring form lately. His brace today gives him 7 goals in his last 9 matches for Arsenal. He also gave us this picture, which as far as I’m concerned should go down in the history of iconic Arsenal photos. There are things bigger than football, and TSF kneels right alongside Lacazette and his teammates in support of Black Lives Matter and against racism in football.
Captain fantastic Alex Lacazette means business tonight pic.twitter.com/bJH8LnMbws— Chris Wheatley (@ChrisWheatley_) April 15, 2021
There really wasn’t a poor performance to be found anywhere on the pitch tonight for the Gunners, which is precisely what you want to see from the players in the biggest match of the season (to date). Thomas Partey controlled the middle of the pitch. The defense didn’t surrender a single shot. Calum Chambers bombed up and down the right flank. And Granit Xhaka, who put on the armband when Lacazette was subbed off, put in another solid performance as a makeshift left back.
Mikel Arteta smartly took off Emile Smith Rowe, who is coming off and injury, and Bukayo Saka for rest and protection. Gabriel Martinelli, Eddie Nketiah, and Folarin Balogun all got run-outs. Positives all around tonight.
Arsenal will travel to Villareal in two weeks for the first leg of the Semifinal, with the return leg at the Emirates the week after. It’s poetic that former manager Unai Emery stands in the way of Arsenal reaching the Final. Let’s hope the club authors a triumph rather than a tragedy.