Everything was on the line for Arsenal and in their hour of need, they produced their best football of the season to keep their Champions League dream alive.
It was billed as the game that would make or break Arsenal. Not just for the players but Mikel Arteta as well. Win and their hopes of a trophy and the potential of Champions League football next season are still well and truly alive. Lose and many suggested that Arteta’s job would almost be unattainable. The added factor of the racial incident involving Slavia Prague added something extra to the contest and the team showed their solidarity in the best way.
Having drawn against Slavia Prague in the first leg at the Emirates thanks to a last-minute equalizer, it meant that Arsenal had it all to do away in the second leg. They had to score and simply had to win this match.
The first 15 minutes were rather uneventful and then we thought that Emile Smith Rowe had given Arsenal a crucial away goal only for it to be ruled offside by VAR. That decision could have made the Gunners slump their shoulders and think this is not our night but in fact, it did the opposite. Just minutes later, Smith Rowe fed Nicolas Pepe through and the Ivorian coolly slotted home to give Arsenal the goal they desperately craved.
It settled the team down and calmed the nerves and what was to follow was simply breathtaking. In the space of six minutes, Arsenal banged on another two away goals thanks to an Alexandre Lacazette penalty and a sublime finish outside the box from teen sensation Bukayo Saka to put the Gunners up by three goals with only 24 minutes played.
It was the spell of the season for Arsenal as they ran rings around Slavia Prague and in doing so set up a mouth-watering clash with former Gunners manager Unai Emery and his Villarreal side. The game and the tie were settled inside the first 25 minutes and Mikel Arteta’s side was in cruise control for the rest of the contest.
So what does the result mean? For me, it shows the reason why there is optimism surrounding Arteta and his vision for this Arsenal side and that the direction the club is going is north not south.
Their inconsistencies in form have seen them produce some absolute horror shows and then follow it up with a performance of a top-four side. While booking a spot in the semi-finals of the Europa League essentially counts for nothing unless they progress and win the final but the way they dismantled and blew away Prague on their home deck shows what this side is capable of when it gets into its groove.
There is a sense of irony that the man standing in Arsenal’s way of European glory is the man that was sacked from the club just 16 months ago and the return to the biggest club competition is now within reach for Arteta and his Arsenal side.
They travelled to the Czech Republic with everything on the line, their season, and in some aspects the manager's job too and they put in a performance every Gunners fan would be proud of. They return to north London with the dream of Champions League football next season still well and truly alive.