The Gunners resumed their Europa League adventure and continued their fine form in this competition, as they humbly welcomed CSKA Moscow to the Emirates for the first leg of the quarterfinals. This match was of great interest to me not only because the Gunners were playing, but also to catch a glimpse of Aleksandr Golovin; the 21-year-old CSKA midfielder who the Gunners have been chasing for a while now.
Arsene Wenger made changes to his side that started against Stoke over the weekend – perhaps naming his strongest side for the first leg encounter. Petr Cech, Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Ozil and Alexander Lacazette made the starting XI for this encounter.
There’s something about Xhaka’s performance and attitude of playing when he’s involved in a three-man midfield system. He tends to flourish even better and acts calm on the ball, bring about stability with almost no lapses in the middle of the park.
It didn’t take long for cheers to resonate around the Emirates, and the man responsible for that was Aaron Ramsey – who looks well settled and composed in front of goal, like a student who has now attained masters’ level.
Mesut Ozil set up Bellerin after receiving the ball from Jack Wilshere, with the Spanish right-back pulling a square cross to the box that fell perfectly for Ramsey, who roofed the ball into the net beyond the reach of Igor Akinfeev to give the host the lead.
In the 15th minute, Aleksandr Golovin announced himself to Wenger and Arsenal, when he scored the equaliser with a beautifully well-struck free kick. The young Russian international that is set to lead his country in this year’s world cup finals, curled a free kick over the wall and into the top corner, leaving Petr Cech with no chance of preventing the ball from going into the net.
It’s Mesut Ozil’s world and we are just living in it, frankly, he plays for the best team in the world. The sheer brilliance of Ozil is a thing to wonder about, as he won his team a penalty in the 21st minute. Ozil driving with the ball into the opposition’s penalty box knew he was short of options, as he intelligently played smart to force a tackle from a CSKA defender that brought him down – which led to the referee awarding a penalty.
Lacazette made no mistake like he did against Stoke, as he sent Akinfeev the wrong way to restore the lead for the Gunners.
Ramsey once more found the back of the net in the 27th minute, this time with perhaps the best goal in the Europa League campaign thus far. A sublime pass from Ozil to Ramsey was overshadowed by Ramsey’s goal, as the Welsh international, in mid-air lobbed Akinfeev meters away from his six-yard box with the outside of his right boot – leaving everyone marvelled at the work of art that was performed.
The Gunners weren’t done with their scoring and furthermore punished CSKA with a goal by Lacazette in the 34th minute. Mesut Ozil with yet the assist, drove a cross into the path of Lacazette, with the Frenchman controlling the ball the first time and pulling the trigger with his left foot – into the corner of the post and beyond the reach of Akinfeev.
Aaron Ramsey came close to scoring his hat trick and winning the match ball late in the second half when Iwobi set him up but would see the ball come off the post after leaving Akinfeev glued to a spot for a moment.
The Gunners would then play the second leg next Thursday in Russia, as they look onto the Europa League as their saving grace for the season.