Arsenal's ability to rise to the occasion has been frequently questioned this season, but with their season hanging in the balance, they responded superbly scoring three goals inside the opening 24 minutes to secure their place in the Europa League semi-finals.
It was an excellent response to the disappointment of conceding an added time equaliser in the first leg seven days previously with first half strikes from Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka ensuring Mikel Arteta’s side enjoyed an unexpectedly comfortable evening as they set up a meeting with Villarreal in the last four. Lacazette capped the win in the 76th minute with his fourth goal in two games.
Victory also came after Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang explained the reason for his absence with a post on social media immediately before kick off that showed him in a hospital bed along with the message that he had been receiving treatment after contracting malaria while on international duty with Gabon.
Aubameyang had appeared as a substitute in the first leg but was missing from the weekend trip to Sheffield United.
"I've spent a few days in hospital this week," he said on Instagram. "I'm already feeling much better every day, thanks to the great doctors that detected and treated the virus so quickly. I wasn't really feeling myself the last couple weeks but will be back stronger than ever soon!”
A terrible lapse in concentration in the final moments of the first leg allowed Tomas Holes to score an added time equaliser for Slavia Prague that meant Mikel Arteta’s side arrived in the Czech capital knowing they needed to score to go through.
The manner in which they had allowed control of the tie to slip away was all too typical of so many Arsenal performances this season. On this occasion, though, there could be no doubt about the resolve they demonstrated to keep alive their hopes of winning the competition and claiming the additional reward of a place in next season’s Champions League.
Their belief had been strengthened by Sunday’s 3-0 win at Sheffield United, their first victory in five games, that was built on a first clean sheet in 15 games. Arteta opted to stick with the back four that started at Bramall Lane meaning there was no place for Gabriel who mistake contributed to Holes’s goal a week previously. It also meant that Granit Xhaka was once again pressed into an unfamiliar role at left-back.
Further forward, Emile Smith Rowe came in for Gabriel Martinelli because, Arteta confirmed before kick-off, of doubts about the the teenager’s ability to see out the 90 minutes after picking up a minor knock at the weekend. The hosts, meanwhile, were without Ondrej Kudela, the centre-back, who was this week banned this week for 10 games after racially abusing Glen Kamara, the Rangers midfielder, in the previous round.
Right from the opening whistle Arteta’s side look in control of the game. They pressed forward confidently whenever they could while the defence looked assured as they dealt with Slavia’s attempts to impose themselves on the visitors.
It took just 14 minutes for the Gunners to unpick Slavia’s defences and they would have been ahead but for a narrow offside decision that ruled out Smith Rowe’s close range effort. The playmaker was alert and the first to respond after Saka had cut on to his left foot and shot across keeper Ondrej Kolar who did well to divert the ball onto the post. The referee awarded the goal but the video assistant referee spotted an infringement after lengthy wait.
There was no sense Arsenal were deflated at having been denied an opening goal and they immediately forced their way back onto the front foot to claim an 18th minute lead through Pepe.
The winger drilled a low cross into the box and when the ball broke to Smith Rowe on the edge of the area, the midfielder showed superb skill to beat two players and slip in Pepe who finished well from close range.
Saka then burst into the box two minutes later but his run was halted by a clumsy challenge from Slavia midfielder Jakob Hromada. Presented with the chance to double the lead from the penalty spot, Lacazette held his nerve to send the keeper the wrong way.
Arsenal were rampant and had effectively killed off the game in the 24th minute when Saka went one better than his earlier effort after being sent clear by Calum Chambers. This time the midfielder drilled his shot inside Kolar’s near post to add the third.
With such a commanding lead it was no surprise Arsenal eased off slightly but they produced another fine goal 14 minutes from time to confirm their superiority. Xhaka played the ball to Pepe who cross found Lacazette and the forward showed excellent close control to find space before completing the win.