Arsenal: Arteta says club 'belongs in semi-finals'
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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has had a rollercoaster of a first full season in management this year, but watching his side beat Slavia Prague in the Europa League in dominating fashion, the Gunners boss will be excited about the future. Arsenal have been dangerously inconsistent this campaign, but had perhaps their best game of the season on Thursday to put themselves into the final four of the competition.
Arsenal got off to a lightning start in Prague, scoring four times within the opening 25 minutes.
The Gunners were clearly told to go out and attack from the opening minute, and ensured every pass went forwards as they chucked men up the pitch.
Bukayo Saka, playing out on the right wing, had one of his best games in recent months as he caused havoc for the Prague defence.
The youngster made his intent clear on the 14 minute mark when he darted down the right flank before cutting in and drilling a shot at goal. His effort was saved onto the post, but Emile Smith Rowe was there to tuck away the rebound.
The mandatory VAR check disallowed the goal after it was determined that the youngster’s toe was offside, but that didn’t stop Arsenal’s onslaught.
They were ahead just moments later through Nicolas Pepe – one of the side’s more inconsistent performers this season – who used his quick feet to manoeuvre the ball onto his left foot and clip it into the back of the net from close range.
They took the aggregate lead just three minutes later after Thomas Partey was fouled inside the box, with Alexandre Lacazette stroking home the resulting penalty.
Arsenal, not content with a two-goal lead on the night, pushed forward again and this time Saka chose to slot his effort from the edge of the box into the near post, leaving Prague goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar with no chance.
After taking a healthy lead, Arsenal did what they arguably do best, dominate the ball and refuse to let the opposition have a sniff of an opening.
Their sudden all-out attack was sacrificed to make way for a mature performance, and they were even able to add a fourth through Lacazette after frustrating Prague into leaving an opening in their defence.
Arsenal will now turn their attention towards Sunday’s Premier League outing against relegation-threatened Fulham, and Arteta will know exactly how to set his side up.
Too often this season the Gunners have been too passive on the ball and have perhaps looked to have possession for possession’s sake.
Their position of ninth in the table hasn’t been a result of bad luck or catastrophic injury crises, but a lack of identity.
Arsenal have far too often set up to play teams with players significantly weaker than their own, but without a clear game plan on how to get out and win games.
Think back to the 3-0 home defeat against Aston Villa, for example, when they only managed two shots on target despite somewhat dominating possession.
While this isn’t a comparison between Arsenal’s two opponents, it does speak volumes of how they approached both games.
Against Villa, as they have been against far too many teams this season, they seemed to be playing without any purpose.
Against Prague, however, they looked unstoppable even without the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Eddie Nketiah, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard in the starting line-up.
Arsenal have a massive final seven matches ahead of them in the Premier League, and have now set themselves up for a truly fascinating conclusion to the campaign.
They now have a clear formula for how to approach games and put themselves in a position to kill off teams with their thrilling host of attackers.
The question now is whether the Gunners boss will look to copy that formula when they play host to Fulham on Sunday, or away at Newcastle on May 1st.
Arteta has created and found his winning formula, now he must regularly act upon it.
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