Sunday 22 April 2018

Welbeck rescues Arsenal on tense night in Russia

CSKA Moscow 2 Arsenal 2 (Arsenal win 6-3 on agg)

Danny Welbeck celebrates after scoring Arsenal's opening goal. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Danny Welbeck celebrates after scoring Arsenal's opening goal. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Jeremy Wilson

Having spent most of the past decade in a futile attempt to replicate the Barcelona model, Arsene Wenger's Arsenal finally almost emulated the Catalan giants here in the worst possible way.

With a 4-1 first-leg advantage, Arsenal had fallen 2-0 behind and were facing the very serious threat of following Barcelona out of European competition just 48 hours after Roma had produced one of the great comebacks from an identical position.

A dreadful midfield performance had allowed CSKA Moscow to dominate the match but, with what was their first shot on target in the match, Danny Welbeck scored in the 75th minute to take Arsenal into the Europa League semi-finals and also keep alive the club's hopes both of a trophy and Champions League football next season.

The respective loss through illness and injury of Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured two changes from Arsenal's 4-1 first-leg victory, with Mohamed Elneny coming into the centre of midfield and Welbeck starting to the left of striker Alexandre Lacazette.

Formation

It meant a tweaked formation that saw Jack Wilshere dropping into a deeper midfield position alongside Elneny, and Ramsey then appearing to have the most licence to press forward and again get behind CSKA Moscow's defence.

Petr Cech goes to pick the ball out of his net after Fedor Chalov (not pictured) scores CSKA's first goal. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
Petr Cech goes to pick the ball out of his net after Fedor Chalov (not pictured) scores CSKA's first goal. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Striker Ahmed Musa's direct running had been CSKA's biggest threat at the Emirates but, with Elneny providing a rather more defensive presence in front of the back four than Xhaka, the match was soon developing into a midfield stalemate.

A group of local children had given every Arsenal fan a traditional Russian hat before the match as a gesture of goodwill and the main activity in a plodding opening half-hour was the noise coming from the CSKA Moscow supporters behind Petr Cech's goal.

The first shot from either side did not arrive until the 21st minute and the first shot on target was not until CSKA scored in the 38th minute.

Arsenal were already 4-1 up by that stage in London the previous week and, having just squandered two good counter-attacking chances here, they were punished.

CSKA Moscow's Konstantin Kuchaev skips past Mesut Ozil. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
CSKA Moscow's Konstantin Kuchaev skips past Mesut Ozil. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Mesut Ozil had broken forward and released Welbeck, only for his cross to prove wayward and then Ramsey was wasteful from a similarly promising position.

The CSKA threat had also been minimal but they took the lead from their first serious attack. Konstantin Kuchaev crossed accurately from the left to Kirill Nababkin, whose stooping header was saved one-handed by Cech but palmed straight into the path of Fedor Chalov.

The Russia U-21 striker had been a slight surprise starting selection but he held his nerve to put CSKA ahead. Arsenal were shaken and could easily have fallen further behind by half-time.

Kristijan Bistrovic shot powerfully wide and then Musa looked certain to score, only to apparently slip inside Arsenal's penalty area with the goal at his mercy.

Wilshere and Ramsey had been down in some apparent pain during the first half but both re-emerged for what was a pivotal 45 minutes.

CSKA Moscow's Ahmed Musa and Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi battle for possession. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor
CSKA Moscow's Ahmed Musa and Arsenal's Shkodran Mustafi battle for possession. Photo: REUTERS/Grigory Dukor

Lacazette, Ozil and Welbeck had been worryingly anonymous and, despite the first-half fright, Arsenal were again collectively passive at the start of the second half.

The most generous interpretation of the way they were inviting CSKA forward was that they were still confident of exploiting space behind their opponents on the counter-attack.

There was another chance for this when Wilshere broke forward and passed to Welbeck in space down Arsenal's right but, with a perfectly-weighted ball then needed for the onrushing Ramsey, he just over-hit his pass to allow goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev to gather.

The pressure was steadily building on Arsenal's goal and, just after CSKA playmaker Aleksandr Golovin had shot wide, they did further reduce their first-leg deficit.

Aaron Ramsey, second left, has an attempt on goal at the CSKA Arena. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
Aaron Ramsey, second left, has an attempt on goal at the CSKA Arena. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Golovin again shot powerfully and did this time force Cech into a save. It should have been much easier to deal with than the first-half goal, but his parry again fell perfectly for an onrushing CSKA player, with Nababkin following up to further fray Arsenal's nerves.

Historic

The CSKA fans were now sensing a historic night and, even with the temperature getting down towards zero, a large group behind the goal were now stood chanting shirtless.

Vitinho sprinted beyond Shkodran Mustafi and went to ground, with referee Felix Zwayer's signal for a goal kick interpreted by many inside the ground as the award of a penalty.

It was not and Arsenal were also frustrated by the officiating when Elneny broke into the penalty area and headed past Akinfeev, only for an offside flag to have been raised.

It was at least a first sign that they could threaten the CSKA goal and Laurent Koscielny did then also shoot wide following a corner. Wenger made his first change after 69 minutes but the decision to replace Wilshere with a centre-back in Calum Chambers told you everything about the game.

CSKA continued to look most likely to score and centre-back Sergei Ignashevich then almost punished a mistake by Elneny, only to shoot narrowly wide.

The one big factor in Arsenal's favour was how an away goal would instantly transform the tie and, with CSKA taking increasing risks, they did then finally show some cutting edge.

Elneny released Welbeck and he calmly side-footed his finish past Akinfeev to seal a semi-final place. Ramsey then also scored in added time but the final 2-2 result hugely flattered Arsenal. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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