Arsenal cruise into Europa semis
With their season on the line, Arsenal’s players produced a devastating first-half performance yesterday to beat Slavia Prague and reach the UEFA Europa League semi-finals.
They’ll meet a familiar face there.
Arsenal’s 4-0 win in the Czech capital, secured courtesy of a three-goal burst in six minutes from the 18th, clinched a 5-1 aggregate victory and set up a last-four match against Villarreal, who are managed by Unai Emery.
The Spanish coach spent an underwhelming 18 months at Arsenal as Arsène Wenger’s replacement in 2018-19 and is rebuilding his managerial career at Villarreal, who beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-1 and advanced 3-1 on aggregate.
Manchester United and Roma complete the semi-final line-up.
United are back in the last four for a second straight season after beating Spanish team Granada 2-0 for a 4-0 aggregate win.
Roma drew 1-1 with Ajax to squeeze through 3-2 on aggregate.
Arsenal and Roma were under pressure to advance because the Europa League represents their only chance of winning a trophy this season and their only realistic route into next season’s UEFA Champions League, owing to their lowly current placing in their domestic leagues.
Arsenal are ninth in the English Premier League and Roma seventh in Serie A.
The winner of the Europa League earns an automatic spot in the far more lucrative Champions League.
Arsenal responded to having an early goal by Emile Smith Rowe ruled out for offside by VAR by scoring three times in quick succession, first though Nicolas Pepe in the 18th and then Alexandre Lacazette, from the penalty spot, and Bukayo Saka.
That meant Slavia, the runaway leader of the Czech league, who hadn’t lost at home in nearly 18 months, needed to score four goals to qualify. By half-time, the hosts had essentially given up as they removed some of their key players to preserve their condition for the league.
Lacazette, continuing as striker with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang sidelined after contracting malaria, added a fourth in the 77th minute.
Arsenal lost to Chelsea in the Europa League final in 2019.
Villarreal’s goals were scored by Paco Alcacer and Gerard Moreno at the end of the first half, with Zagreb – the last-16 conqueror of Tottenham – grabbing a consolation through Mislav Orsic.
Villarreal are in the semi-finals of the Europa League for the first time since 2016.
Yesterday’s Europa League results
Man Utd 2-0 (4-0) Granada
Roma 1-1 (3-2) Ajax
Slavia Prague 0-4 (1-5) Arsenal
Villarreal 2-1 (3-1) Dinamo Zagreb