Slavia Prague 0 Arsenal 4 (agg 1-5): Gunners set up Unai Emery showdown in Europa League semi-final vs Villarreal

UNAI EMERY are you ready? Because Arsenal are out to show their former manager that they are determined to go all the way in the Europa League.

And it is Emery’s Villarreal who are standing in their way after Mikel Arteta’s men set up a semi-final blockbuster in devastating style.

Was it really only two years ago that Emery led the Gunners to the Europa League final before they were hammered 4-1 by Chelsea in Baku?

Because little more than six months after that Azerbaijani annihilation poor old Unai was on his bike when he was ruthlessly axed by Stan Kroenke.

Now Emery has a first opportunity to take his revenge on the team who appeared to chuck in the towel during the final weeks of his ill-fated Emirates reign.

And he will struggle to recognise some of those players when he gets round to studying the tape of this extraordinary match in the Czech capital.

Because they put in the kind of complete performance which was light years away from some of the dross which they have served up in recent months.

A brutal burst of three goals in the space of six first-half minutes turned this quarter-final tie completely on its head after last week’s disappointing 1-1 draw in North London.

Arsenal had travelled to Prague with the threat of failing to qualify for Europe for the first time in 26 years hanging over their heads.

But those concerns were simply brushed to one side despite the absence of skipper Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.


It was just as this match was about to kick off that Aubameyang revealed that he was in hospital after contracting malaria while on international duty with Gabon last month.

That would explain why he had looked so off the pace during the recent 3-0 defeat by Liverpool which proved so damaging to Arsenal’s prospects of securing a top six finish.

Slavia had no such concerns, having effectively won the Czech League for a third successive season at the weekend.

It was way back in November 2019 that Jindrich Trpisovsky’s team were last beaten at their Sinobo Stadium, since when they had played 31 home games.

But that proud record was ruthlessly put to the sword by an Arsenal team who came flying out of the traps to put this tie to bed within the first 25 minutes.

Emile Smith Rowe thought he had opened up the road to the semi-finals when he tapped in after Bukayo Saka’s 14th minute shot had been pushed against the post by keeper Ondrej Kolar.

But after two minutes of scrutiny from the VAR, his effort was ruled out for the most marginal of offside decisions.

It would have been easy for Arteta’s men to worry that it was going to be yet another of those evenings of so close but so far.

Yet they refused to become disheartened by that early disappointment and within two minutes of the restart secured a breakthrough which no-one could dispute.

Once again Smith Rowe was heavily involved, drawing defenders like bees to honey before slipping a pass through to Nicolas Pepe.

Lukas Provod had two nibbles from behind as he tried to halt Arsenal’s record signing but Pepe resisted the temptation to go down before beating Kolar from a tight angle.

It was the early away goal Arteta had demanded from his team to ease the pressure but even better was to follow when Saka was sent crashing by a rash challenge from behind by Jakub Hromada.

Turkish ref Cuneyt Cakir didn’t require any video assistance this time before pointing straight to the spot.

And Alex Lacazette was every bit as decisive with his penalty, calmly sending Kolar the wrong way for his 16th goal of the season.

Like the rest of us, Arteta could barely believe what he was seeing as all of his pre-match plans fell perfectly into place.

Yet pitiless Arsenal weren’t finished yet and with Slavia on their knees and begging for mercy, Saka twisted the knife even further.

The 19-year-old England international really is a superstar in the making and you can see exactly why the club went to such lengths to tie him down to a lengthy new contract earlier in the season.

Slavia were certainly in awe of the teenaged flier, backing off to allow Saka to deceive the shell shocked Kolar with a shot inside the near post from outside the area.

Job done with more than an hour of the game remaining and absolutely no chance of a late comeback this time.

Yet there was still time for stand-in skipper Lacazette to strike again, pouncing on David Zima’s slip to convert Pepe’s 77th minute cross.

It means Arsenal have scored an incredible 32 Europa League goals this season and now have two weeks to prepare themselves for the first leg of their semi-final.

There is still plenty of work to do before they can think about booking a trip to Gdansk for next month’s final.

But if they continue to play like this you wouldn’t want to be in Emery’s shoes.

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