Arsenal Vs CSKA Moscow: Highlights and analysis – Carving creativity

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by Andrew Dowdeswell

Arsenal hosted CSKA Moscow in the first leg of the Europa League quarter-final on Thursday night. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis of the 4-1 win.

It was a blistering attacking performance from Arsenal on Thursday night. Although there were surefire defensive problems that need to be addressed moving forwards, from a purely offensive standpoint, this was one of the best showings of the season. Arsene Wenger’s dream of having four creative, technical, intelligent midfielders finally came to fruition. His side played through the lines excellently, piercing a slow and lethargic CSKA Moscow defence, carving out a vast array of high-quality chances and scoring some wonderful goals. This was far from perfect, but it was extremely joyous.
The first half started in a controversial manner. Two questionable calls at both ends of the pitch, one of which led to a goal, while the other very much could have had Ahmed Musa been allowed to continue his drive towards the goal.
Musa’s apparent mistimed run was the first of the incidents. With Laurent Koscielny losing out to Pontus Wernbloom in an aerial challenge, Musa was in the clear with Hector Bellerin playing him onside and Shkodran Mustafi questionably standing under the ball. The linesman, though, had other ideas, pulling it back, wrongly, for an offside. At the other end, Aaron Ramsey’s one-two with Mesut Ozil was wonderfully flicked home by the Welshman, only for the linesman to judge that Ozil had sneaked offside. It was certainly tight.
Then the game went into overdrive. It was Arsenal who opened the scoring. Mesut Ozil played two lovely passes in the move, the first into Jack Wilshere’s feet, the second into the path of Hector Bellerin. Bellerin then sliced through the CSKA defence with a low cut-back that Aaron Ramsey was on hand at the far post to plant into the roof of the net with a confident finish.
But then, in typical Arsenal fashion, madness ensued. The CSKA equaliser, a wonderful, curled free-kick from the impressive 21-year-old Aleksandr Golovin, stemmed from some maddening defending by the Gunners. Shkodran Mustafi, having come across from the left side to clean up the loose ball, then tried to clear over his head, only re-diverting the ball back towards the penalty area. Granit Xhaka then tried to clear, but only served to kick the ball high into the air. Then Laurent Koscielny tried his luck, bundling in to challenge for a header that he was never going to win. Foul given; goal scored.
Arsenal then went into meltdown. Ahmed Musa should have scored after some poor defending from Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny, their passing was loose and wayward, and they looked panicked all over the pitch. Thankfully, they were still consistently able to pierce the Moscow ranks through the midfield areas with Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey picking up some lovely positions.
It was those two that linked up for the Gunners’ second goal, Xhaka finding Ozil, Ozil playing a one-two with Ramsey, Ozil driving into the box only to be felled at the crucial moment. Penalty give; goal scored, this time thanks to the thumping right foot of Alexandre Lacazette, his second spot-kick in as many games.
A third followed shortly after, with Ozil at the heart of it once again. He started the move with some interplay between himself, Lacazette and Monreal. He then received the ball once more in a deep, left-sided position. Aaron Ramsey then made his trademark, penalty-box drift in behind the CSKA defence. Ozil picked him out with a beautifully dinked pass, and Ramsey brilliantly flicked the ball up and over the onrushing Igor Akinfeev with a wonderfully inventive backheel.
It didn’t take much longer for the fourth to come, and, yep, that’s right, Mesut Ozil was at the heart of it once again. On this occasion, some lovely play involving Nacho Monreal and Granit Xhaka released the German down the left flank. Ozil, taking his time, picked out Alexandre Lacazette near the penalty spot. Lacazette took one touch to set himself, before arrowing a left-footed strike into the bottom corner.
But for all of Arsenal’s lovely play going forward, there were still concerning moments at the other end. Ahmed Musa’s pace was causing major issues, while Alan Dazgoev had two opportunities to shoot, both of which were poorly fired over the crossbar. Both Mustafi and Koscielny looked extremely shaky at times, especially the former, while Bellerin struggled with the pace of the CSKA attack on a couple of occasions.
The game settled down a little in the second half. Arsenal played a little more conservatively in possession, aware that the three-goal advantage they had engineered was plenty enough for the second leg as long as they didn’t concede another, and CSKA made it their mission to at least slow down the Gunners’ attack.
Chances were still created. A lovely Mesut Ozil pass wasn’t quite converted by Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who was under pressure from a sliding defender, while Jack Wilshere was inches away from converting a rebound from a Mkhitaryan shot but couldn’t quite beat Sergei Ignashevich to the ball and Aaron Ramsey’s shot was deflected clear by the same defender after some good work from Wilshere, Mhitaryan and Nacho Monreal down the left flank.
That said, a second away goal for the Russians would change this tie, and they did have a couple of opportunities. Petr Cech had to make a save fro Pontus Wernbloom, Georgy Schenikov misfired with an effort towards the goal, while Alan Dazgoev was offside as he nodded a header into the gaping net.
Arsenal did, however, continue to play some lovely stuff, creating further excellent chances. Alex Iwobi should have shot when Mesut Ozil slipped him through, but his pass was angled slightly too far ahead of Alexandre Lacazette at the far post for the Frenchman to convert; Iwobi then had a soft shot blocked from a very similar position, before Aaron Ramsey, searching for his hat-trick, cracked the outside of the post, just failing to get the required bend on his first-time shot.
Chances continued to flow. Danny Welbeck deflected a ball straight at Igor Akinfeev after an excellent Aaron Ramsey cross, while several counter-attack opportunities were squandered with poor passes at the crucial moment. But, for the most part, this was a comfortable game for Arsenal that they closed out easily.
There were issues with this performance. On another day, CSKA could have scored at least two or three. Had they done, with the away-goals rule, they would have caused uncertainty ahead of the second leg. But from an attacking basis, this was an outstanding display. In fact, four goals were less than the Gunners deserved. Long may it continue.

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