Arsenal should save their season the arduous means, and by now it appears as in the event that they know no different. They appeared to have a tentative foot within the Europa League semi-finals when Nicolas Pépé, operating on to a move from his fellow substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, dinked in a pleasant end as the minutes ticked down. However then got here the sting: within the third minute of stoppage time a Slavia Prague nook popped up off Pépé and straight into the trail of Tomas Holes, who thundered in a header that provides his facet an away-goal benefit earlier than subsequent Thursday’s second leg. Mikel Arteta will rue plenty of missed possibilities, with Bukayo Saka and Alexandre Lacazette the chief culprits.
Given Arteta’s constraints elsewhere it appeared fairly a press release to bench Aubameyang, even when the captain’s earlier two begins had been related just for their anonymity. Kieran Tierney, who will miss no less than the subsequent month, was joined by Martin Ødegaard and David Luiz on the sidelines so it was comprehensible that the burden of absent high quality bred a way of foreboding.
That was doubly the case given Slavia had proven, in accounting for Leicester and Rangers, that their abilities translate far past the Czech league they dominate. The guests had problems with their very own, although: each of their common centre-backs had been absent and one in every of them, the suspended Ondrej Kudela, will obtain a longer-term ban if Uefa discern he was responsible of racially abusing Glen Kamara at Ibrox final month.
One in all Slavia’s defensive deputies, Holes, is extra familiarly a midfielder however confirmed commendable timing to disclaim Saka a run at objective within the fifth minute. Lacazette had created the opening and Arsenal’s biggest moments of early menace got here each time the pair mixed. In any other case, they had been in no way the dominant pressure: Slavia appeared a assured, compact facet joyful to commit gamers ahead when the event offered itself and virtually scored on the quarter-hour.
Their rangy midfielder, Lukas Provod, half-volleyed the unfastened ball a foot too excessive from 20 yards after Héctor Bellerín had headed Alexander Bah’s cross away. Provod began the transfer with a perceptive change to the best; Slavia’s switching of positions in assault was inflicting concern however Arsenal started to impose themselves with a level of consistency after the half’s halfway level and Saka will marvel how he didn’t put them forward within the twenty ninth minute.
Given the liberty of the inside-right channel after Rob Holding had ventured upfield to place him by means of and with Bah taking part in him properly onside, Saka had time to stare into the whites of Ondrej Kolar’s eyes however received his angles fallacious. He slipped the ball broad of each the keeper and the far publish, letting his opponents off however nonetheless confirming he was Arsenal’s major supply of hazard.
It was Holding who got here shut subsequent, although, beating two males to Cédric’s deep cross and seeing Kolar tip his header over. Saka had fizzed a tantalising ball throughout objective moments beforehand and, by the interval, Arsenal may no less than really feel they’d established some management.
Willian virtually turned it right into a objective inside 4 minutes of the restart when, after the irrepressible Saka had been fouled simply exterior the realm by David Zima, he bent a free-kick on to the surface Kolar’s left publish.
However possibilities weren’t coming commonly and Slavia produced one in every of their very own once they labored the ball boldly from defence and Provod situated the rampaging left-back Jan Boril in a capturing place. Leno saved neatly along with his legs but it was a reminder, as Slavia regained a measure of their earlier composure, that the night’s margins had been slimming.
Lacazette ought to have bent them in Arsenal’s favour when, after successful the ball close to midway, he contrived a miss to outdo Saka’s aberration. He had 50 yards to run into however with the objective at his mercy lifted his shot on to the crossbar. He then directed a Saka cross over from contained in the six-yard field and ideas turned to the centre-forward who was watching from the facet.
Aubameyang ultimately changed Lacazette 12 minutes from time as Arteta flung on the cavalry. He prodded Emile Smith Rowe’s cross broad when a correct contact would have ensured a fairytale arrival; Arsenal had lived dangerously moments beforehand, although, when the Slavia substitute Petr Sevcik set himself inside their field and drilled inches broad.
Subsequent Gabriel Martinelli got here shut however, as Pépé ran by means of to seemingly win the day, the drama had solely simply begun.