Arsenal’s Europa League dream lives on – just – after a tense night in Moscow and manager Arsene Wenger can still hope for his first European trophy with the “Gunners.” His side are in their first European semi-final in nine years, despite threatening to join Barcelona in the history books for all the wrong reasons. “Barca” was surprisingly eliminated from the Champions League after an unconvincing second leg against Roma.
Wenger, who made seven changes from the recent 3-2 Premier League win over Southampton with this game in mind, brought his rested big names in Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere back into the starting XI against CSKA. Ozil, in particular, had an outstanding first game in London. With CSKA leading and asking some severe questions of the visitors, it required Danny Welbeck – who scored twice against Southampton after what Wenger described as a “dark” time in his career – to save the day. He latched on to a wonderful Mohamed Elneny pass to finish calmly 15 minutes from time. That goal knocked the stuffing out of an impressive CSKA, who recovered well from losing influential Russia midfielder Alan Dzagoev to injury in the first half. Ramsey, who needed treatment to a badly cut foot, showed similar coolness when a one on one presented itself with the veteran goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev and the clock past midnight local time.
In his post-game press conference Wenger was presented with a Russian hat, like the ones given as gifts to the Arsenal fans in the away end by CSKA. With heightened tensions between the United Kingdom and Russia, it was a cordial end to a night which had threatened to be altogether more unpleasant for the Gunners. Arsenal reached the semi-finals with a 6-3 aggregate win.
In that post-game interview Wenger stressed his nervousness against the Russians. “Maybe we were a bit surprised by the intensity at the start. After that we came back. We were in trouble in the first half. In the first half the distances were too big. At 2-1 we looked good to get to 2-2 and we did. They scored the second, had a chance for the third. It was a good response from us after the break. After moving to a back five we were more stable and didn’t concede as many chances. Their second was from distance, but in the box we didn’t give anything away. We have players who can always score. Once we got to 2-1 it was a big blow for them and they didn’t recover.”
Arsene Wenger’s side was trailing 2-0 and under pressure when Danny Welbeck’s second-half goal gave them breathing space. The hosts, who led through Fedor Chalov and Kirill Nababkin, went close to drawing level on aggregate and leading on away goals as Petr Cech saved Aleksandr Golovin’s free-kick and Sergei Ignashevich shot narrowly wide. Arsenal, the leading scorers in the competition, did not have an effort on target in the first 70 minutes, and Laurent Koscielny wasted a glorious chance before Welbeck struck.
Aaron Ramsey’s goal in stoppage time made certain of their progress into the last four alongside Atletico Madrid, Marseille and Salzburg. Viktor Goncharenko’s men had dreamed of an upset when Chalov reacted before Shkodran Mustafi to score the opener after Cech saved Nabakin’s header. Cech was at fault when he could only parry Golovin’s strike from 25 yards and Nababkin reacted first to double the hosts’ lead. But Arsenal, who lost midfielder Jack Wilshere to injury, kept their nerve to progress and a game against Athletic Madrid in the semi-finals.