Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe inspire rout as transformed Arsenal produce best display of season

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Simon Collings
·3-min read
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 (REUTERS)
(REUTERS)

What a difference a week makes.

Just seven days ago the dark clouds were looming over Mikel Arteta and Arsenal after they drew the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final 1-1 with Slavia Prague at the Emirates Stadium.

It left the Gunners needing a result in Prague against a Slavia side who - until tonight - had not lost at home this season.

That run was ended in emphatic fashion by Arsenal, though, who ran out 4-0 winners to set up a semi-final showdown with Villarreal - and their old boss Unai Emery.

It was a brilliant performance from Arsenal and probably their best under Mikel Arteta this season given the stakes.

The Gunners knew that a poor result would see them crash out of the Europa League and leave them staring down the barrel of a season without European football for the first time this century.

The pressure was on and Arsenal delivered. It was miles away from their performance in the first leg, when they were lacklustre and wasteful.

This time they were bright and sharp, with youngsters Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe causing havoc. Smith Rowe had a goal ruled out for offside after 15 minutes, but moments later he set up Pepe for the opener.

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

From there, Arsenal didn’t look back and, if anyone summed up how far they’ve come in a week, it was Alexandre Lacazette.

The Frenchman missed two glorious chances in the first leg, but he has bounced back superbly since then. He scored twice in the 3-0 win over Sheffield United and did the same tonight.

Sandwiched in between those strikes was a goal from - who else - Saka. Like Lacazette, he had missed a great chance a week ago in the first leg, but that now feels like a distant memory.

Pepe continues to shine in Europe

As everyone knows, it has not been plain sailing for Pepe at Arsenal. The Ivorian has struggled to make his mark, but is taking the Europa League by storm this season.

Of players still involved in this year’s competition, only Roma’s Borja Mayoral has been directly involved in more goals than Pepe.

The 25-year-old has weighed in with four assists and as many goals, after opening the scoring against Slavia tonight. It was a composed finish too, with Pepe taking his time before dinking the ball over the goalkeeper and into the net.

The Europa League is now Arsenal’s priority this season and the fact Pepe is thriving in it will be music to Arteta’s ears. The Gunners have waited a long time for their £72million man to come good and, if he continues this form into the semi-finals, he will start to prove his critics wrong.

Chambers making right-back spot his own

If you had said at the start of the season Calum Chambers would be showing why he’s Arsenal’s first choice right-back, not many people would have believed you. The 26-year-old was still working his way back from a serious knee injury then and he had a long road ahead of him.

AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images

It was thought, when Chambers was back, that he would be one of those vying to start at centre-back. But now he is stating a strong case to be Arsenal’s preferred right-back.

Chambers has been excellent since being handed their chance to shine there, with former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher dubbing him Cafu after his showing against West Ham last month.

That was said with tongue firmly in cheek, however Chamber is really making that right-back spot his own. He was impressive again during this win over Slavia and, with Hector Bellerin seemingly off this summer, Arsenal could already have found a replacement without needing to spend a penny.

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