Relief for Wenger as Gunners out of jail with late revival
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger expressed his relief after his side survived an almighty second-leg scare at CSKA Moscow to book their place in the Europa League semi-finals.
Despite holding a 4-1 advantage from the first leg, the nervous Gunners were rocking after the hosts hinted at the weeks latest European revival with goals from Fedor Chalov and Kirill Nababkin.
But Arsenal eased the tension in the latter stages courtesy of strikes from Danny Welbeck and Aaron Ramsey, as the north Londoners – who will qualify for next seasons Champions League if they win the tournament – reached their first European semi-final in nine years, the draw for which takes place today.
“We were a bit surprised by the intensity of the game and we were not at the races in the first half especially,” said Wenger.
“When they scored their second goal we were a bit on the ropes but it was a good response from us.
“We have players who can always score and once we got to 2-1 it was a big blow for them and they didnt recover. We were in trouble in the first half but once we moved to a back five we were much more stable and didnt concede many chances.”
Wenger spent the pre-match build up urging his side to guard against complacency, citing the example of Barcelonas shock Champions League exit to Roma despite having a healthy first leg lead – the same as the Gunners.
But Arsenals nerves began to jangle as CSKA took a 39th-minute lead when Nababkins header from Konstantin Kuchaevs cross was parried by goalkeeper Petr Cech into the path of Chalov, who applied a close-range finish.
Those nerves turned to panic for the visitors five minutes after the restart when Cech rather tentatively swatted away a long-range effort from Aleksandr Golovin, allowing Nababkin to slam home.
Arsenals blushes were spared, however, with a quarter of an hour remaining as Welbeck exchanged passes with Mohamed Elneny – the Egyptians return ball was perfectly weighted – before lashing beyond CSKA stopper Igor Akinfeev.
The goal visibly deflated the hosts and the Gunners restored parity on the night in the dying embers of the match as Ramsey produced a calm and clinical finish after being released by Elneny.