Arsenal conceded a late away goal as they failed to hold on to a first-leg advantage in a 1-1 draw with Slavia Prague in the Europa League quarter-final.
A number of missed chances were to blame as they failed to build up momentum. However, Nicolas Pepe came on from the bench to give some hope with a late goal. But Slavia responded with an equaliser to undo the hosts’ efforts.
Arsenal went into the game on the back of a 3-0 defeat to Liverpool in the Premier League. A reaction was needed and Mikel Arteta made the big call to leave captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench.
That was one of six changes made by the Gunners, with Willian among those to come back in.
Slavia meanwhile had already caused problems for British sides Leicester and Rangers in the last two rounds. Their target was to take the first step towards claiming another scalp.
The Czech side had the first decent attempt of the game, when Lukas Provod lifted the ball over the bar.
Arsenal were probing, but were yet to really test the opposition keeper. For example, there was some good work from Bukayo Saka on the right wing, but his cross was not met by any teammate.
They began to show more intensity as the half progressed. A chance came when Thomas Partey carried the ball upfield, before setting up Alexandre Lacazette whose shot went off target.
A free kick on the edge of the box looked inviting for Arsenal, but they couldn’t make use of it immediately. However, as play was recycled, it led to a chance. Cedric Soares crossed in from the left and Rob Holding forced a good save from Ondrej Kolar with a header.
Tempo increases in second half
After a fairly quiet first half, the second half began with more excitement. Willian hit the post with a free kick, for instance.
Slavia were also asking questions, with captain Jan Boril drawing a save from Bernd Leno at the end of a forward-thinking move.
Arsenal then had a golden chance when Lacazette picked up possession on the half-way line. With a clean run at goal, he fluffed his lines and hit the woodwork.
Lacazette had another chance after a low cross from Saka, but once again missed the target.
Partey was next to have a go, but aimed well wide after trying his luck from outside the box.
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At the other end, Arsenal failed to clear their lines, leaving a chance for Petr Sevcik. However, the substitute pulled his shot wide as well.
Arsenal had some intricate play on their next attack, but it culminated with Aubameyang – freshly on as a substitute – diverting the ball wide.
Fellow substitute Gabriel Martinelli let fly with a powerful effort, but it was always rising and Kolar had it covered, tipping it behind.
As the game entered its final five minutes, Arsenal finally got the breakthrough. Pepe was slid through by Aubameyang after some hold-up play and the Ivorian dinked the ball over Kolar.
However, just as it seemed they would be heading into next week’s second leg with an important advantage, Slavia got a crucial away goal.
Leno had to bat away an effort from Provod, which led to a corner. As play broke down, Tomas Holes snuck in at the back post to head past the Arsenal keeper and make it 1-1.
It leaves the game delicately poised ahead of the reunion next week.
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