A blistering first-half display saw Arsenal cruise past Slavia Prague 4-0 to progress to the Europa League semi-finals 5-1 on aggregate.
The visitors arrived in the Czech capital knowing they had to score to have a chance of qualifying against a Slavia team who had not lost at the Eden Arena for 18 months, but they had an early ‘goal’ ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee for the tightest of offsides against Emile Smith Rowe.
However, Mikel Arteta’s side soon made up for that disappointment when Nicolas Pepe’s neat, close-range finish gave them a deserved 18th-minute lead, which they soon doubled thanks to Alexandre Lacazette’s penalty (21).
Three minutes later Arsenal were in dreamland when Bukayo Saka’s low drive from the edge of the box made it 3-0, with their captain Lacazette grabbing his second of the night with 13 minutes to go to add the icing on the cake.
Arsenal will now face Villarreal and their former manager Unai Emery in the semi-finals, with the first leg in Spain on April 29, before the return leg at the Emirates on May 6.
Slavia Prague: Kolar (6), Bah (6), Holes (6), Zima (6), Boril (6), Hromada (6), Stanciu (6), Provod (7), Olayinka (7), Kuchta (6), Sevcik (6)
Subs: Tecl (6), Masopust (6), Lingr (6), Visinsky (6), Dorley (6)
Arsenal: Leno (6), Chambers (7), Holding (7), Mari (7), Saka (8), Xhaka (7), Partey (7), Ceballos (7), Smith Rowe (9), Pepe (7), Lacazette (7)
Subs: Cedric (6), Elneny (6), Martinelli (6), Nketiah (6), Balogun (6)
Man of the match: Emile Smith Rowe
How Arsenal blew Slavia away
Arsenal advanced to their third Europa League semi-final in the last four years thanks to a devastating first-half performance in Prague against opponents who rarely lose at home.
Slavia were unable to live with the Gunners before half-time as the visitors tore into their hosts right from the kick-off, going in search of the goal they needed to have any chance of making the semi-finals.
They thought they had it after just 14 minutes when Saka cut in from the right and curled a shot against the inside of the post, with the help of a touch from Ondrej Kolar, Smith Rowe reacting quickest of all to sidefoot home into the empty net.
After a length VAR check, though, the goal was ruled out for an extremely close offside call against Smith Rowe, who soon got over his disappointment to set up Pepe for the opener.
The young Englishman showed quick feet in a tight space in the box, before cleverly feeding Pepe and the Ivory Coast forward held off a firm challenge from behind to score at the near post.
Just moments later, Arsenal increased their lead as Smith Rowe broke free down the right and, from his pull back, Saka was fouled from behind by Jakub Hromada, with Lacazette stroking home the resulting penalty.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta made just one change with Emile Smith Rowe returning in place of Gabriel Martinelli, but captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did not recover from illness in time to make the squad, with Martin Odegaard’s ankle niggle also keeping him on the sidelines.
A rampant Arsenal added a third goal in the blink of an eye after a lovely flowing move saw Calum Chambers find Saka down the right, with the England international cutting back inside and beating a motionless Kolar at his near post with a low drive.
That really was that, with the home team – who did not have a shot on target in the game – removing all their key players at half-time in order to preserve them for their title battle with city rivals Sparta Prague.
All of which allowed Arsenal, who were again missing Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as the forward continues his recovery from malaria, to add a fourth when Pepe got free down the left, before crossing for Lacazette to smash home his seventh goal in his last nine games for the club.
End of Slavia’s unbeaten home run – Opta stats
- Slavia Prague suffered their first home defeat in their last seven European games (W3 D3), conceding more goals in this game (4) than in the previous six on home soil (3).
- Arsenal have reached the semi-finals of European competition for the 10th time (including Fairs Cup), with the Gunners getting to the last four in three of their four UEFA Europa League campaigns.
- Arsenal have scored 3+ goals in four consecutive away games in all competitions for the first time since December 1932 (5 games).
- Arsenal kept a clean sheet in a European game for the first time in eight games, since a 3-0 away win over Molde in the UEFA Europa League in November 2020.
- Nicolas Pépé has been directly involved in nine goals in his 10 starts for Arsenal in the UEFA Europa League (4 goals, 5 assists).
- Emile Smith Rowe registered his seventh assist in all competitions this season, the joint-most of any Arsenal player in 2020-21 (level with Willian).
- Only Radamel Falcao (20) and Kevin Gameiro (19) have scored more UEFA Europa League knockout stage goals than Arsenal striker Alexandre Lacazette (18).
- Alexandre Lacazette has scored 2+ goals in consecutive games in all competitions for the first time for any club since his last three appearances for Lyon in May 2017.
- With four goals to his name, Bukayo Saka is now Arsenal’s joint-top teenage scorer in major European competition, level with Charlie George and Ray Kennedy.
Man of the Match – Emile Smith Rowe
Smith Rowe returned to Arsenal’s starting line-up in place of Gabriel Martinelli and boy were the visitors were glad as the youngster turned in yet another accomplished display for someone of his age.
The 20-year-old was pretty much involved in all Arsenal’s best moves, starting by showing alertness to fire his side ahead early on, only for the dreaded VAR to intervene and rule out that strike.
Not that it mattered as soon his dancing feet in the box left a posse of Slavia defenders mesmerised, before a gorgeous pass set up Pepe for the crucial opener and he then found Saka in the move that led to the visitors winning a penalty.
And not only that, but the England U21 international was also involved in the eye-catching move that led to Arsenal’s third goal that killed the game off entirely, with the player now one of the first names down on Arteta’s team sheet.
Slavia Prague travel to Liberec on Sunday afternoon (3pm).
Meanwhile, Arsenal take on struggling Fulham at the Emirates on Sunday, with the game kicking off at 1.30pm on Sky Sports Premier League.