Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta is sure that the Gunners can still progress to the Europa League semi-finals after conceding a late equaliser against Slavia Prague in the first leg at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night, but his tactical decisions in the game have drawn anger from fans and club legends.
Arsenal had plenty of chances in the game but failed to test Slavia goalkeeper Ondrej Kolar. Even when Alexandre Lacazette was through on goal with a whole half of a pitch to run into, the Frenchman struck his effort against the crossbar.
Arteta eventually made changes, bringing on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe for the final 15 minutes. It had a positive impact, asking fresh questions of the Slavia defence, with Aubameyang setting up Pepe with what should have been a winner in the 86th minute.
But the Gunners couldn’t hold on to their lead and Tomas Holes scored for Slavia from a stoppage time corner that had Arteta turn away in despair.
The away goal means that Slavia hold the advantage ahead of the second leg and, at the very least, Arsenal have to score in Prague next week to cancel it out.
“I totally believe we can go there and win the match, or I wouldn’t be sitting here. The mindset has to be to go there and score goals and win the game, because we need to score if we want to go through,” a defiant Arteta said afterwards, via Arsenal.com.
“It was a big decision to leave some players out but we decided to play the team who had the best chance at the start of the game, and as well have some key players there to change the game when we need it,” the Spaniard explained.
“I think when they came on they had a real impact, which was very necessary in this competition and they did what we expected them to do. We made [the substitutions] when we believed it was the right time to do it, and when they changed their set up and we believed we could hurt them and not earlier. Whether should have done it before then, who knows?”
Upon seeing his team give up the initiative by failing to put the game to bed, Gunners legend Ian Wright fumed on Twitter, “Take the chances! Make the subs earlier! Finish the tie.”
Fellow former Arsenal stars Martin Keown and Karen Carney, both analysing the game for BT Sport, were also less than pleased with they saw.
“They need somebody to slap them in the face almost, or punch them in the face before they wake up and they start to play. It was about Arsenal and the way they played and by sitting off, I thought they chose the wrong tactics,” Keown said.
Carney commented: “It’s a nightmare for Arsenal, absolutely devastating. Arsenal had a lot of chances, Slavia Prague should have been dead and buried.”
Keown also suggested Arteta missed an opportunity to give more of a chance to Gabriel Martinelli, who only appeared off the bench in the final 20 minutes as a replacement for Willian.
“I’d like to have seen Martinelli in there,” the retired defender said.
“He’s a player who keeps getting overlooked. It’s so frustrating. He [Martinelli] could easily have played on the left-hand side [with Bukayo Saka on the right]. Arsenal have no left-footed player on the left-hand side, that’s a bit of an issue for me.”
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