Nigerian international Peter Olayinka’s Slavia Prague of the Czech first League were able to hold English Premier League opponents Arsenal when Prague’s Tomas Holes scored in stoppage time to deny Nicolas Pepe the glory of a late winner. The leveller earned visitors Prague a 1-1 draw at the Emirates in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final fixture.
The substitute Pepe appeared to have won the game for Mikel Arteta’s side when he displayed clinical dexterity after being played through by fellow substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with four minutes of normal time remaining to give the Gunners a slim edge.
However, the Czech champions, who previously knocked out EPL’s Leicester City and Scottish League champions Rangers in the preceding two rounds, showed their resilience once again to blow that edge away. In the final minutes, Holes swooped in to head a precious away goal in beyond the attempt of Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno to stop.
The very impressive Czech team, where Olayinka plays as a striker, are now unbeaten in 22 games. They will fancy their chances as favourites to progress in the pairing, a possibility that Holes’ late goal helped to concretise.
The mettle Prague displayed when they knocked out Leicester and Rangers to reach the quarter-finals, they replicated at the Emirates to once again demonstrate that it will be a grave undoing to write them off. They return to Prague with a delicate advantage of their away goal and a solid point for the reverse fixture next week on their home grounds.
Arteta’s wasteful Gunners are reverting to old form at a worst possible time. They are equally failing to score and letting goals in all over again just like the time when it appeared that the players had done enough to merit the firing of the manager mid-season. Clearly missing the creative services of Martin Ødegaard in the middle of the park, they were dismal.
Their lapse of concentration at the back led to the equaliser and now, they must score in Prague and hope to not be as profligate as they were on Thursday, where only two of their 11 attempts were on target. Then, they must do what is clearly becoming impossible for the defense at the Emirates recently: avoid conceding by keeping a clean sheet.
The last time the Arsenal defenses were not breached was 14 games ago, which is the longest such run for the Gunners since December 2019. They have failed to stop conceding since the goalless tie with Manchester United at the end of January. Despite getting his glove on the ball, Leno could not save his net from Holes’ header. They cannot allow that on Thursday, for their own good.
Mikel may want to start Pepe, who came into the game late and still managed to make a difference to the play plus get Arsenal’s goal after all the prior wastefulness. His opener made it four goals and three assists for him in this season’s Europa League, which adds up for the most goal involvements of any Gunners player in the competition.
The Ivory Coast international scored with his only attempt. Meanwhile, Lacazette had four shots, including a one-on-one in which he had ample time to pick his spot but still did not score and could only hit the target from just one of all his shots.
The Gunners have an uphill task at Prague if they are to make anything of their 2020/2021 campaign and cannot continue on these appalling statistics while Olayinka’s Prague side will be preparing to claim another British scalp come Thursday next week.