Gunners rally late but the performance wasn’t great

CSKA Moscow 2-2 Arsenal FT

Arsenal made it through to their first European semi final since 2009 but not without a scare.  The Gunner’s progression was in real doubt when they found themselves two goals down on the night having played just 50 minutes.  At that point the Russian side were just a solitary goal away from turning the tie on it’s head and in a week where remarkable comebacks had become something of a theme the Gunner’s faithful would have feared the worst.

Nacho Monreal seemed to get caught under the ball when a cross came in from the left hand side and although Petr Cech made a fine save down to his right from Kirill Nababkin’s header he was unable to prevent forward Fedor Chalov from turning in the rebound.  Slack defending has been a problem for Arsenal throughout the season and shortly after the break it was Petr Cech’s turn to gift CSKA a goal.  Aleksandr Golovin’s shot was on target but should never have caused the veteran goalkeeper anywhere near as much difficulty as it did.

Peter Cech seemed to beat the shot down into the ground but once again a CSKA attacker was on hand to pounce.  This time Kirill Nababkin found the back of the net but questions will undoubtedly be asked of the goalkeeper for his involvement and not for the first time this season.  His failure to divert the ball away from the danger area proved costly and all of a sudden CSKA began to believe.

Twenty five more nervous minutes passed before Arsenal scored the goal they so desperately needed.  A fine move both started and emphatically finished by Danny Welbeck – the first sign of any real quality from the Premier League side and you could feel an over riding sense of relief in the way the 500 or so travelling Gunners fans and the players celebrated.  The pass that split CSKA’s ageing defence was provided by Mohamed Elneny, perfectly weighted, exquisitely timed and at first glance you could have been forgiven for thinking it had been played by Mesut Ozil.

The Egyptian international now keen to steal Ozil’s title of assist king laid on another sublime pass right at the death but this time it was for Aaron Ramsey to race onto.  The Welshman continued his excellent form in front of goal, beat the onrushing Igor Akinfeev with ease and levelled things on the night.

In my opinion Arsene Wenger deserves a great deal of credit for the way he managed the game this evening, the introduction of Callum Chambers and his decision to switch to a back three succeeded in changing the course of this fixture.  The change in system allowed both Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal to play in slightly more advanced roles as wing backs and as a result nullify the threats of  Kirill Nababkin and Kuchaev on the opposite flank who had caused the Gunners plenty of trouble up until that point.

The standout player on the park this evening was without question the Russian international Aleksandr Golovin.  He’s certainly one to keep your eye on during this summers World Cup tournament.  Despite being just 21 years of age he displayed a composure, a maturity and a truly magical touch.   He possesses the vision, awareness and intelligence required to compliment his outstanding technical ability and the sky is the limit for this young man.

Ahead of the game there was much talk regarding what impact the political tensions between the two nations could have on the fixture and those travelling to the Russian Capital.  However, despite many people’s concerns there were no reports of any disturbances between the two sets of supporters.  CSKA Moscow provided each Arsenal fan in attendance with a complimentary Russian style hat in order to protect them against the cold.  A nice touch indeed and one that highlights the willingness of the hosts to put politics aside and let the football take centre stage.

The Gunners will need to improve in the semi finals if they are to make the final in Lyon, I think thats obvious.  Given the way they had cut through CSKA with such ease and regularity in the first leg the fact Wenger’s side failed to register a shot on target for more than 70 minutes came as a surprise to most.  Atletico Madrid, Salzburg and Leipzig are all potential semi final opponents for the Gunners but they’ll feel as long as they can avoid the Spanish giants they have an excellent chance of progressing to the final.

Player Ratings:

Cech 5/10 – At fault for CSKA’s second goal.

Bellerin 6/10 – Average performance from the Spaniard.

Mustafi 5/10 – Fedor Chalov pulled off of him to open the scoring and the German international looked sloppy particularly in the first period.

Koscielny 6/10 – Despite some shaky moments in the early stages he improved as the game went on.

Monreal 5/10 – One of the worst performances I’ve seen from him in an Arsenal shirt.  Improved when the manager changed the system after Callum Chambers’ introduction.

Elneny 8/10 – Worked tirelessly and provided the assists for both the Gunner’s goals.

Wilshere 3/10 – Poor from the very first minute, caught in possession far too often, physically off the pace and the team improved significantly once he was withdrawn.

Ramsey 7/10 – Put in a good shift as usual and continued his fine run of goalscoring form.

Ozil 6/10 – Showed glimpses of his ability but his decision to pull out of clearing a ball from fear of getting hurt almost led to CSKA’s third goal at the point they were 2-0 up.

Welbeck 8/10 – Scored the vital goal by finishing off a move he started and worked tirelessly throughout.

Lacazette 5/10 – Anonymous for the most part, failed to have any impact on the game.

Words: @HarrySymeou

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