Tonight we saw the Arsenal of old. They played at a frenetic tempo and their build-up play ripped the CSKA Moscow defence to shreds. It was superb, slick and sublime from Arsenal as they played through and cut open the aged Moscow back three. They could not get anywhere near the Arsenal attackers and were left exposed every time a man in a red and white shirt came forward. The Moscow back three have a combined age of 108 and it showed tonight. The Arsenal attackers were too quick and their intense passing left massive gaps on the wings and in the penalty area. And Arsenal took full advantage.
Schennikov and Kuchaev – who were more wingers than wing-backs – left their back three so exposed, making it very easily for Arsenal to get through them. Bellerin and Ozil were often left wide open on the wings. This Moscow defence made Arsenal’s look solid.
The defending was non-existent for Arsenal’s first goal. Bellerin, Wilshere and Ramsey were all unmarked in CSKA’s final third. Ozil found Bellerin wide on the right wing who then crossed it low to Ramsey who was stood in the middle of the penalty area and he fired in the goal. The cross should never have found its way to Ramsey. It was awful defending.
But let’s not overstate this Arsenal performance. Yes they showed signs of their former selves but this is against a very poor Moscow side, whose defending was atrocious. And Moscow had chances of their own. They showed great character to keep their heads after going a goal down and were soon rewarded. But it was through Arsenal’s defensive failures rather than Moscow’s great attacking play.
Arsenal had three opportunities to clear the ball, first Mustafi whose headed clearance fell to a Moscow player. Then Xhaka attempted to clear the ball only to keep it in the danger area. And then Koscielny, in attempting to head the ball away, clattered the Moscow attacker and conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area.
Golovin, the 21-year-old Russian, was impressive in the midfield intercepting passes and kick-starting Moscow’s attacks. He stood up to take the free-kick from 25 yards out and whipped the ball into the top right corner, leaving Cech with no chance in the Arsenal goal.
It was nearly a second after Musa ran rampantly in the Arsenal penalty area. He dummied a shot and set himself free on the left, but he dragged his show wide to spare the Arsenal defence’s blushes.
Just as Moscow were looking to take the lead, they shot themselves in the foot. Ozil sprinted through the heart of the CSKA defence after a one-two with Ramsey. It was the fast pacced passing which had undone the defence once again. Schennikov scythed Ozil down just as he was about to shoot. The referee blew for a penalty and Lacezette fired low to his left and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to give Arsenal the lead.
Ramsey had gone under the radar in the Moscow defence on far too many occasions and they were punished again. Ozil’s passing was deadly, finding players left right and centre in dangerous positions. He performed exceptionally tonight, but against a weak side, and the problem is that he rarely produces the big performances. He showed his awareness to find Ramsey wide open in the box. Ramsey was clever as he ran in between Ignashevich and Schennikov and as the ball arrived, he leaped acrobatically to flick the ball over Akinfeev and into the back of the net. It was a goal of the highest order.
Arsenal were not finished. They wanted more. Xhaka found Ozil open on the right wing who then produced a low driven cross to the ege of the box where Lacezette was completely free. He had the time to take a touch and he curled it past Akinfeev into the bottom left corner.
Musa caused Arsenal some problems, but in the vital moments his decision making let him down, but his pace was an issue for Arsenal. It was a lovely ball from Golovin which set Musa off on a run into the penalty area, as he approached the box he ha Shennikov to his left who would have had a clear shot on goal, but he chose to go himself and it was blocked.
Mkhitaryan fed the overlapping Monreal who then cut the ball back for Ramsey. He then side-footed the ball towards goal for a certain goal, but before it could get anywhere near, it was blocked by a CSKA defender.
Desperate to get his hands on the match ball, Ramsey continued the search for his third goal. This time a clever move found Ramsey via Iwobi. He struck the ball forward but it was just wide of Akinfeev’s goal.
The only shock of the night was how Ramsey didn’t get his hat-trick and how Arsenal only scored four goals. They could have had double figures. The set-up by CSKA Moscow was bizarre. They would have been aware of the dangers Arsenal attack. Yet they played three at the back and the wing-backs were far too advanced. It was baffling.
Arsenal look as if they are going to go through to the semi-finals of the Europa League, but this result is unlikely to silence the Arsene Wenger critics, especially given the quality – or lack of – of their opponent.
Subs used: Iwobi 8, Welbeck 6, Elneny 6
Subs used: Vitinho 6, Milanov 6, Khosonov 6
Xplode’s Man of the Match – Aaron Ramsey