Arsenal fight off a dramatic CSKA Moscow challenge

Arsenal fight off a dramatic CSKA Moscow challenge

Andrew Flint –

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal seemed to be done and dusted before the kickoff but Arsenal had to hang on to fight off the Armymen.

  • Kristijan Bistrovic makes a surprise start as Bibras Natkho and Pontus Wernbloom miss out
  • Alan Dzagoev hobbles off in first half a minute before Chalov snaffles close-range rebound for the lead
  • Kirill Nababkin’s volley put CSKA on the verge of an incredible comeback before Danny Welbeck’s cool finish and Aaron Ramsey’s injury-time dink sealed the aggregate win

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal – 2-2 (3-6 on aggregate)

Goals: 1-0 (Chalov 39’), 2-0 (Nababkin 50’); 2-1 Welbeck 76’) 2-2 (Ramsey 90+3’)

Danny Welbeck saved Arsenal from an insipid performance with a moment of magic after CSKA had come within one goal of knocking the Londoners out on away goals. Fedor Chalov smashed in a close-range effort before halftime before Kirill Nababkin’s volley gave CSKA hope, but in injury time a clinical breakaway saw Aaron Ramsey seal a 6-3 aggregate win for the English visitors.

It took 17 minutes for Arsenal to finally spring to life after a low-key opening. A typically intricate one-touch move released Bellerin down the right channel but the sliding challenge of Alexey Berezutskiy prevented the attempted cross. The fact that this was the first incisive move of a team that had scored four goals with ease last week was not lost on Arsene Wenger, who cut an increasingly frustrated figure in his technical area. Mohamed Elneny was twice caught out in the opening 25 minutes, first leading to a free kick just outside the Arsenal penalty area, but in truth, neither side was at their fluent best.

Golovin then turned Elneny with ease round the outside just before the half-hour mark, creating space for Dzagoev to carry and shoot. His blocked shot flew to Mesut Ozil who suddenly found himself in acres of space with a four-on-four counter-attack developing.  Alexandre Lacazette had peeled off on the outside of Alexey Berezutskiy charging into the box, but his shot was deflected over as Berezutskiy just made up the ground lost.

With little more than ten minutes till the break the game slowly began to open up. Unsurprisingly Özil was the orchestrator twice more. Danny Welbeck raced onto a simple pass down the right with Aaron Ramsey in space at the back post, but his cross was just too far for the first leg’s two-goal midfielder. Welbeck was again the recipient on the counter-attack, an Alexey Berezutskiy challenge just managing to deny Lacazette who had been set clear by Welbeck’s pass.

After 37 minutes Alan Dzagoev came off for Vitinho having signalled his discomfort earlier, but his withdrawal inadvertently contributed to the breakthrough a minute later. The Brazilian moved into a very attacking front three as Kuchaev moved into a left midfield position, and it was the latter’s input that sparked the breakthrough. His deep cross to the back post was thumped by Kirill Nababkin’s powerful header was down to Cech’s left. The keeper had a strong hand to keep it out, but only managed to palm it out to Chalov who gleefully smashed it home from a few yards out.

Vitinho chased a ball down the right channel and caused Monreal all sorts of problems. From the resulting corner, the ball drifted to the edge of the box where a lurking Bistrovic lashed a controlled side-footed effort inches wide.

Right after the break, the temperature was raised another notch, with the unlikely attacking threat of Nabakin central once again. Aleksandr Golovin sent a swerving drive from 25 yards out that Cech could only parry wide, where Nababkin was on hand to crash home a volley.  A couple of minutes later, Golovin was tripped on the left in almost the same spot he shot from moment earlier. He sent the free kick darting to Cech’s left, but the veteran Arsenal keeper was equal to it as he flung a fantastic fingertip save.

To Arsenal’s credit, they didn’t roll over through the deafening noise. Bellerin found himself in acres of space outside Kuchaev, and although his pinpoint cross was laid on a plate to Elneny, the Egyptian’s bullet header into the top corner was ruled out by the linesman’s flag. CSKA by this stage had been playing with just two midfielders in Golovin and Bistrovic, but far from being dominated, it was they who were more composed. The latter was making his first start having only turned 20 on Monday but had the assurance of a seasoned senior statesman.

Jack Wilshere slunk off with 20 minutes to go after a completely anonymous display to be replaced by Calum Chambers as Arsenal moved to a back five. Of all people, it was Sergey Ignashevich who came within a whisker of the all-important third goal for CSKA; his opportunistic volley whistled a foot wide of Cech’s right-hand post.

Just as the unthinkable looked on the cards, a goal came for the visitors against the run of play. Welbeck turned Nababkin with a wonderful touch to get behind the hosts’ backline before playing a one-two with Elneny and curling a cool finish past Igor Akinfeev. As CSKA pushed on gallantly, Arsenal broke clear with Elneny driving through the home side’s half. Ramsey was left with the simple task once one-on-one with AKinfeev and made no mistake.

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal – Man of the Match

Kristijan Bistrovic. The 20-year-old Croatian midfielder was asked to control the middle of the pitch against one of the most technically gifted sides in Europe, and he emerged not just unscathed but with pride. His use of the ball was inventive and confident, while he harried Jack Wilshere out of the game. In the original set up, he allowed Golovin and Dzagoev to roam further forward, but once he was asked to double up as part of a two-man midfield he seemed to grow in stature.

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal -Kristijan Bistrovic was the player of the game. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal -Kristijan Bistrovic was the player of the game. (KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal – Talking Point

Viktor Goncharenko’s tactical boldness in the face of injury disruptions to key players so nearly paid dividends, but in the end two key moments cost them. Pontus Wernbloom was absent from the matchday squad through injury while Kristijan Bistrovic was preferred to Bibras Natkho in the middle, but this didn’t deter Goncharenko from moving to an adventurous 5-2-3 formation following the early enforced substitution of Alan Dzagoev.

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal – Match Stats

  • CSKA had more than double Arsenal’s shots on goal with 14 to the visitors’ 7
  • Arsenal won more than twice the number of aerial duels as CSKA with an impressive 27
  • CSKA shaded possession with 52%

CSKA Moscow v Arsenal – Line-ups

CSKA Moscow:

Formation: 3-5-2

Akinfeev – V. Berezutskiy, Ignashevich, A. Berezutskiy – Nababkin, Dzagoev (Vitinho 37’), Bistrovic (Natkho 71’), Golovin, Kuchaev – Chalov (Milanov 79’), Musa

Manager: Viktor Goncharenko


Formation: 4-3-3

Cech – Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal – Ramsey, Elneny, Wilshere (Chambers 69’) – Welbeck, Lacazette (Iwobi 76’), Ozil

Coach: Arsene Wenger

Andrew Flint is an English freelance football writer living in Tyumen, Western Siberia, with his wife and two daughters. He has featured on These Football Times, Russian Football News, Four Four Two and Sovetski Sport, mostly focusing on full-length articles about derbies, youth development and the game in Russia. Due to his love for FC Tyumen, he is particularly interested in lower league Russian football,and is looking to establish himself in time for the 2018 World Cup. Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMijFlint.