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Having spent most of the past decade in a flawed 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 fell two goals 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 first-leg position.
A truly dreadful midfield performance had allowed CSKA Moscow to pile on the pressure but, with what was their first shot on target in the match, Danny Welbeck scored a precious away goal in the 75th minute to seal Arsenal’s path to the Europa League semi-finals, and also calm desperately frayed nerves.
“CSKA made my heart beat much quicker than I expected,” Wenger later admitted.
Aaron Ramsey did add another in added time to equalise on the night, but a final 6-3 aggregate scoreline was a long way from the full story. Arsenal - and perhaps even Wenger - were on the brink for a significant part of this match and it was only when they switched to a five-man defence after 69 minutes that they looked likely to withstand CSKA’s attacks.
After a night of dramatic turnarounds in the other Europa League quarter-finals, Arsenal do now take their place with favourites Atletico Madrid, Marseille and RB Salzburg in Friday’s semi-final draw.
With the chance of a trophy and Champions League football next season also still alive, Wenger acknowledged that his team were “not at the races” and “on the ropes” before Welbeck rescued the situation. “When you have your back to the wall, Danny looks like he has an extra-special motivation in his body and head to give you something,” said Wenger. “That is something really exceptional that you do not find it in many players.”
The respective loss through illness and injury of Granit Xhaka and Henrikh Mkhitaryan ensured two changes from the first leg, with Mohamed Elneny coming into the centre of midfield and Welbeck starting to the left of striker Alexandre Lacazette.
It all meant a slightly tweaked formation that saw Jack Wilshere dropping into a deeper midfield position and Arsenal devoid of their usual pace, adventure and fluency.
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 attempt on target was not until CSKA suddenly scored in the 38th minute. Konstantin Kuchaev had 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 Under-21 striker held his nerve to put CSKA ahead.
Arsenal were visibly shaken and could easily have fallen further behind by half-time. Kristijan Bistrovic shot powerfully wide and then Ahmed Musa looked certain to score, only to apparently slip inside Arsenal’s penalty area with the goal at his mercy.
Despite the first-half fright, Arsenal were again collectively passive when they re-emerged. 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 certainly a chance for this when Wilshere broke forward and released Welbeck 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. Golovin again shot powerfully and did this time forced Cech into a save. It was easier to deal with than the first-half goal but Cech’s parry again fell perfectly for an onrushing CSKA player, with Nababkin following up to score.
CSKA’s fans were now sensing a historic night and, even with the temperature dropping towards zero, a large group behind the goal were stood shirtless as they urged their team forward.
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 themselves frustrated by the officiating when Elneny broke into the penalty area and headed past Akinfeev, only for an offside flag to be raised.
Wenger made his first change and the decision to replace Wilshere with a centre-back in Calum Chambers told you everything about the state of the game. Wilshere had suffered a kick to his ankle, which was perhaps restricting him, and Arsenal were being overrun through the centre.
Following a mistake by Elneny, centre-back Sergei Ignashevich broke forward into space on the edge of the penalty area and his shot was only inches from making it 3-0 and effectively putting CSKA ahead in the tie.
The one big factor in Arsenal’s favour was how an away goal would be instantly transformative and, with CSKA taking increasing risks, they did then finally produce a cutting edge. Elneny released Welbeck and he calmly side-footed his finish past Akinfeev. Ramsey then scored in added time, following another Elneny assist, but the final 2-2 scoreline flattered Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger wants to avoid Atletico
"We were surprised by the intensity of the game and not at the races, they come back, score the second goal, we were a bit on the ropes and we were better organised in the second half. Our distances were too big in the first.
"We were in trouble the first half, once we moved to a five we were much more stable and didn't give so many chances away.
"We have players who can always score and I think once we scored the 2-1 it was a big blow for them and they didn't recover.
Do you want to avoid Atletico?
"Ideally. They are the strongest on paper but let's just play well against the team we get."
Arsenal have gotten away with that one. CSKA are not the best of teams but they had the Gunners on the ropes there, and were it not for Welbeck's superb goal, could well have gone on to get back in that one.
Arsenal reach the semi-final!
That's it! CSKA's high defensive line is caught out, as was inevitable, and Ramsey is one on one with the goalkeeper. He can't miss... and he doesn't. A great disguised finished, chipped over the goalkeeper into the back of the net. Arsenal are through!
90 mins +1
Now the game is mostly wrapped up, Ozil has suddenly come to life and is causing havoc. Arsenal have another counter-attack and again Ramsey does everything he can to get forward. Welbeck and Iwobi are there too but the pass is poor into Welbeck and his shot across goal is well saved.
The break is on! CSKA heads have dropped, Ozil nips in down the right and Arsenal have three on two! Ramsey goes right, it opens the passing lane for Ozil to find Iwobi and the ball is perfect!
Iwobi shanks his effort miles wide. Really poor.
Arsenal come forward and about five players join in the fun. They've won the tie but still, have a think about it! What are they doing sending so many up at this stage in a match they're set up to defend in?! I do not understand the mentality of these players, or Wenger's lack of control over them.
This is much better defending from Arsenal. They have a line of five defending with a shield of four slightly higher. Ozil is furthest forward and as Koscielny steps out to intercept and send his team up the pitch, Ozil wins a corner.
Welbeck flicks the ball forward as he wins it in his defensive third and Ozil latches onto it. His first touch takes it away from him but he doesn't commit to the 50/50 and CSKA win it back easily. That is the most frustrating thing of all. He doesn't have to go in to try and wound the opponent, but he could so easily put himself in a bit harder to at least put the guy off. It's a lack of bravery.
Lacazette is substituted. He must absolutely hate that - imagine leaving your boyhood club to join a big team in England who are nowhere near as good as they used to be, and you keep being taken off at 75 minutes every week.
WELBECK HAS DONE IT! And what a goal this is! Welbeck takes the ball on the left wing, pretends to control and go towards his on goal but it's a dummy, and he completely bins his marker with a quick turn. He sprints inside the pithc, gets a perfect one-two return from Elneny, and then bends a powerful shot into the corner of the net beyond the goalkeeper. Brilliant from Welbeck. I told you he's amazing sometimes!
And still Arsenal don't get stuck in! They're losing all the key battles, are second to every header and don't look like they're prepared to take control of the match.
Ozil hits another useless free-kick into the area and it's easily cleared.
OOOOOCHA! That is VERY close! CSKA keep Arsenal pinned back, the ball drops for Ignashevich and he launches a fizzing shot at goal! It screams past the far post with Cech at full stretch!
KOSCIELNYYYYYYYYYYY misses from six yards! A corner comes into the area and falls to the defender, but he leans back as he connects with a volley and sends the shot over the bar.
Calum Chambers is about to come on for Arsenal and I'd imagine he'll replace Wilshere, letting Elneny stay in midfield as a ball-winning midfielder.
The ball comes off the referee and suddenly Arsenal have space in the CSKA final third! Wilshere chips to his left, Ozil has to work hard to control and then shoot at goal... but his effort is blocked. CSKA are putting in the defensive effort that Arsenal need.
Wilshere does come off for Chambers.
Welbeck has a chance to break and sprints down the left! He gets to the box showing great pace... but then his final pass is blocked. Welbeck seems like a lovely lad but he really is the most medium footballer of all time.
Occasionally he's brilliant. Most of the time he's good at running, sees the pass but can't make it, gets in the positions but misses his chances, can dribble past someone and hold them off with strength one minute then is shoved out the way easily the next.
Monreal has a throw-in wide left but he's out-muscled easily and CSKA clear their lines. Wilshere gives the ball away again near half way and CSKA can break!
CSKA have it again and Arsenal are back in a 5-4-1 defensive shape, unable to win the ball. They're so passive! I'm neutral here and it's driving me mental - CLOSE THEM DOWN! TACKLE! Nobody's making anything difficult for them anywhere and honestly it won't be long before CSKA are in again.
Mustafi heads the ball along the floor as Musa wins the battle of strength and balance over the German. Mustafi gets a free-kick, which is fortunate.
Wilshere does really well to evade a couple of challenges and link one-twos to take Arsenal up the pitch. Ozil plays a pass back rather than into the box and Arsenal keep the ball. Elneny has moved back to midfield and it's made a difference.
The ball is moved out to the right and Bellerin crosses to the back post... ELNENY IS THERE! GOOOOOAAAAAA - oh no wait a minute. He's about five yards offside. No goal.
Arsenal keep hold of the ball for a bit but they can't get anywhere near the final third. CSKA drop deeper and wait ready to spring a counter-attack.
Robbie Savage has just pointed out that had Elneny been in his defensive midfield position rather than centre-back, he would have been able to close down Golovin before he took that shot!
Arsenal look so lethargic! It's soooooo Arsenal. They need to wake up, show some passion and get stuck in! CSKA are all over them!
Cech saves from a free-kick hit from long range! That's better from the goalkeeper.
CSKA have a second! Golovin has miles of space about 30 yards out and absolutely launches a shot at goal. It dips and swerves, Cech parries to his left and Nababkin follows up to blast past him from a narrow angle. What has happened to Petr Cech?!
CSKA right back in this one!
A quick attack from Arsenal and again Welbeck's final ball isn't good enough. He sees the pass and it's a clever ball, but Ramsey cannot get to it before the goalkeeper does.
Welbeck is about 10 per cent short tonight. Arsenal are flapping here, they do not have control of this tie and the change in shape has made no difference.
Elneny appears to have dropped back into a back three. CSKA start better and have all the ball early in the second half.
KICK OFF 2
Possession tells a story
CSKA piled on the pressure in the final part of that half!
Arsenal haven't been able to take control of the midfield and don't have any real structure upfront either. They're set up to counter-attack and tip-tap passes but at the moment it's not working.
Phew! Arsenal did not enjoy the last 10 minutes of that one! Wenger could do with rousing words to gee them up for the second 45.
45 mins +3
Arsenal are rattled! CSKA have them pinned back, Wilshere is down injured again clutching his ankle. CSKA hit ball after ball into the area but at the moment the defence are getting clear. Golovin is a bright spark and making things happen. Arsenal can't keep hold of the ball!
45 mins +1
MUSA GOES DOWN IN THE AREA! Is that a penalty?! The referee doesn't see anything wrong with it.
CSKA have momentum and are really scaring Arsenal at the moment! Ramsey is still off the pitch and they need another man on the pitch to help out!
Koscielny didn't do enough to block the cross there again. He's been dreadful so far.
BISTROVIC! Wow that's close. Bistrovic absolutely smashes a shot from 20 yards towards the top corner but it flies wide of the post. Arsenal need to get control back of this one!
Ramsey has gone straight down the tunnel apparently, which suggests he's away to have stitches put in that wound. That might be the last of him tonight.
Soon after kick-off Vitinho goes close!
The tie has completely changed in a matter of minutes! Ramsey goes down with an injury and needs to be taken off on a stretcher. That appears to be a cut rather than anything too serious.
CSKA take the lead! It's a great header from a cross from left and Nababkin gets a strong header to it! Chalov follows up, smashing in the rebound from Cech's excellent save!
Bellerin gives the ball away, chases to get back but can't. Elneny misses his interception, Golovin has space to attack! He carries the ball, fakes to shoot and then cuts onto his left... but he's slipped! Now Arsenal counter! Welbeck is in on the right and can shoot but instead plays a poor pass across the box and gives possession - and the chance to score - away.
Arsenal have a corner though and Monreal heads wide.
Dzagoev is substituted for Vitinho. That's a big loss to CSKA, it must be some sort of muscle injury.
Great counter-attack - this is a chance for Arsenal! Ozil deceives his marker with a really clever shift of balance and then plays in Welbeck to his right. Welbeck's low ball across the box is too far ahead of Ramsey to be of use and CSKA survive.
Arsenal comfortable here.
Absolutely brilliant froM Arsenal as they fire quick smart passes and one-twos to flee up the pitch rapidly in a whirl of movement. CSKA can't get close to stop it... and the referee spots a pull on Wilshere and gives Arsenal a free-kick 35 yards out.
Dzagoev has just indicated to the bench that he needs/wants to come off.
The free-kick is sent to the far post, headed back in... and CSKA can break! But Ozil - say whaaaaat - is the one to track back and break up the counter.
Arsenal drop back into a really defensive shape, deep near their own box as CSKA enjoy a spell of possession. They're working hard to press and force the home side back - and doing it well too!
Lacazetttttttte! Deflected over! Arsenal counter-attack quickly, the Frenchman shoots across goal but a defender gets a crucial block on it.
There's a clash of heads from the corner, as Mustafi and Berezutski headbutt each others' skulls. Ouch.
Arsenal have successfully slowed the game down and appear to have a bit of control over it at the moment. Cech keeps humping the ball long to nobody when CSKA forwards push higher up, but other than the occasional mistake, Arsenal are doing OK here.
Ramsey takes a sore one from an overly keen Kuchaev and Arsenal win a free-kick near the halfway line.
Elneny intercepts with a brilliant read of a forward pass and sprints to join in the attack. Arsenal are made to go backwards though.
Ozil swings a free-kick into the area and it drops at the corner of the box, easily cleared by the defender. Ozil works hard to get back and win it back from Musa.
Wilshere is fouled by Golovin as he goes on a wee run forward. He still seems a little frazzled by having a football nailed off his face a few minutes ago.
Mustafi has also had a poor game in this opening spell, taking far too long in possession.
Welbeck switches wings and Arsenal put together some really nice short passing, moving around between the lines to create space. CSKA are leaving little to no space but Arsenal win a corner.
It's too long for anyone in the box but Monreal has a throw-in now on the left.
Arsenal try to counter-attack and Lacazette only has one man to beat! The defender keeps pace with him, Ramsey runs through the middle to join in, Welbeck gets the ball on the left... and CSKA get men back into their defensive shape.
Chance for CSKA. Koscielny has been dreadful tonight so far and is nowhere near a 50/50 header then misses a tackle as the Russians run straight at the Arsenal backline. A cross from wide right is way overhit and Musa can do nothing with it - that should be the warning shot a frankly sleepy looking Arsenal need.
Wilshere really didn't enjoy that but he seems fine to continue. Gale from Breaking Bad comes on to fix him with physio magic.
CSKA win a free-kick wide right from a handball but Arsenal's defence are well organised and head it away, chasing CSKA back to their own goalkeeper.
Arsenal have a pretty deep defensive line here, making sure CSKA can't ping balls in behind for Musa to nip onto. The ball is whipped into the area and Mustafi diving headers it away straight into Jack Wilshere's face. That looks really sore and he's down with a grimace. He may have taken it in the eye.
Arsenal need to wake up a bit here (where have I heard that before?). Koscielny and Mustafi want to slow things down in defence and pass sideways but CSKA have two strikers and a 10 just behind looking to press, forcing mistakes.
For a moment it looks like CSKA are in! A poor switched ball from Monreal allows attackers to surge towards goal but the referee spots a handball. Hmm.
Soon after Cech has to come off his line to smother a ball in behind the back line. CSKA have come to play tonight!
CSKA get us started and pass back to the goalkeeper, who launches it to halfway. Arsenal win a throw-in then try to keep the ball for a bit.
Here we go!
The Europa League theme is rubbish
The Champions League one is great. We need a new one for the Europa League. I propose this:
Inside the Arsenal dressing room
Wenger wants to play to win
"When you speak about excitement, we have a warning and the best way to deal with it is play to win the game and make sure from the start you're ready on a mental level to play at a high pace."
On playing the big hitters in Europa League as opposed to resting them like usual:
"We are in the quarter-final, I think it is quite normal."
On how it's been in Russia:
"Surprisingly peaceful, the people very nice, you cannot feel any tension."
Can CSKA do it?
Martin Keown reckons CSKA will be inspired by the shenanigans of Champions League comebacks last night.
"But Arsenal have surely got enough," he admits.
Arsenal starting lineup
Welbeck and Lacazette both start and Petr Cech starts. Ospina is injured.
CSKA Moscow starting lineup
Here it is:
Akinfeev, Berezutski, Ignashevich, Berezutski, Nababkin, Bistrovich, Kuchaev, Dzagoev, Golovin, Musa, Chalov
Police looking after the Arsenal fans
Good evening and welcome to our liveblog for CSKA Moscow vs Arsenal, the second leg of a Europa League - not Uefa Cup - quarter-final.
Those pesky Gunners have a 4-1 lead from the first leg but as we've seen in the Champions League, which definitely isn't much, much better than this competition, a three goal cushion means nothing! NOTHING! Will the likes of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey find a way to defend that advantage or will Arsenal do what Arsenal do best and annoy their fans? A whole bunch of them have headed to Moscow hoping that doesn't happen.
Team news should be in shortly, kick-off is 8:05pm. Stay with me for coverage of the action, some analysis along the way and just generally to be friends. In these difficult times, with Russia-UK relations so awkward, it's nice to be nice.