PRAGUE (AFP) – Arsenal scored three goals within six minutes of the first half to reach the Europa League semi-finals as they eased past hosts Slavia Prague 4-0 early yesterday.
Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka crammed their goals in between the 18th and 24th minutes and Lacazette then added another in the second half to round off the score and a 5-1 aggregate win.
Arsenal will face Spain’s Villarreal in the semi-finals starting on April 29.
The Gunners must win the Europa League to qualify for next season’s Champions League as they are languishing in ninth place in the Premier League.
“It was great to see the players, how they approached the game and how brave they were,” said Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta, hailing the game as “a sample of the efficiency you need to win matches in Europe”.
“Games are decided in both boxes and we were ruthless in both of them today. We kept a clean sheet, we scored four and we could have scored more.”
Pepe opened the scoring as he beat Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar at the post from close range. He was set up by Emile Smith Rowe who had shaken off two Slavia defenders and nutmegged another with the final pass.
Lacazette added a second from the penalty spot three minutes later after Slavia midfielder Jakub Hromada had brought down Saka inside the box.
The Frenchman, wearing the captain’s band for the night, waited for Kolar to move and beat him with a shot into the bottom corner.
Slavia’s game plan crumbled and Saka made it 3-0 another three minutes later with a low left-footed shot from just outside the box that landed neatly in the bottom corner.
“It was fantastic from start to finish,” Saka told BT Sport.
“I think we showed real character. We kept going, we were really strong in the first half and pretty much killed the game in the first half.”
“The way we pressed, they couldn’t get out and the control we had over the game, the movement, the rotations, they couldn’t stop us,” added the 19-year-old winger.
Lacazette scored his second of the night with a left-footer on 77 minutes after Pepe had found him unmarked near the penalty spot.
Arsenal missed captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who is recovering from malaria, and Danish midfielder Martin Odegaard, who has an ankle injury.
Slavia were without centre-back Ondrej Kudela, who is serving a 10-match ban on charges he had racially abused Glasgow Rangers midfielder Glen Kamara in a Europa League game in March. The Czech-based club, who saw off Leicester earlier in the knock-out stages and who lead the Czech league with a 16-point cushion, made four changes at half-time, but they failed to create a decent chance throughout the game.