Tomas Holes’ last-gasp header saw Slavia Prague bag a vital away goal from the first-leg of their Europa League quarter-final with Arsenal.
Nicolas Pepe came off the bench to put the Gunners in command over the Czech side on Thursday, but Slavia Prague kept battling and netted a scrappy stoppage time goal from a set-piece.
Mikel Arteta’s side, still licking their wounds following their Liverpool hammering, were poor throughout the night and struggled to get a foothold in what was largely a drab match.
Arteta made four substitutions a quarter of an hour before the end, which saw momentum swing in Arsenal’s favour, with Pepe on hand to fire past Ondrej Kolar on 86 minutes.
But Holes had the final say and put Slavia Prague in command going into the second leg.
Here are five things we learnt.
Substitutions almost made the difference
It took Mikel Arteta a long time to make a change, but when he did he went for broke, replacing Alexandre Lacazette, Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka and Willian with Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pepe and Mohamed Elneny.
Up until the change the Gunners were extremely flat.
But the final 10 minutes were full of energy as Arsenal threw everything but the kitchen sink at Slavia Prague.
Eventually, the breakthrough came via Pepe, who latched onto a through ball after beating his marker to the ball and chipping home.
In the end, it wasn’t enough though, with the same old problems coming back to haunt Arsenal.
Ode to Saka
Mikel Arteta might have been without creative outlet Martin Odegaard this Thursday, but 19-year-old Bukayo Saka is more than capable of providing Arsenal with that spark.
The problem is not enough Gunners players are on the teenager’s wavelength; there simply isn’t enough quality in this Arsenal team.
Saka doesn’t stop running, and not just for the sake of it, but to get himself into good positions to receive and offload the ball.
Every cross into the box – or at least every cross that found a target – was played by him.
And his Gunners teammates appear to be looking for him whenever they have a pass to make – particularly Rob Holding, who played a number of clever balls through the lines on Thursday.
Saka has been out of action in recent weeks, with his last appearance coming in the 3-3 draw with West Ham on March 21.
But he showed no signs of tiredness and instead demonstrated to Arteta exactly how important he is to the Gunners improving and, ultimately, the Spaniard keeping his job.
Alexandre Lacazette began the season in sensational form, netting three in three in the Premier League.
He went quiet for a bit but found his shooting boots around the Christmas period, where the Frenchman scored five in four from December 22 to January 2.
Lacazette then went quiet for a bit again but was on target in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in March and then next time out in the 3-3 draw against West Ham.
The former Lyon striker no doubt went into the Liverpool game on Saturday hoping he could add to his tally.
But he was unable to make it three in three, as the Reds ran out 3-0 winners, and against Slavia Prague this Thursday, Lacazette’s head was on the ground again.
Mikel Arteta was forced to make a number of changes for the Europa League clash after losing first-team stars Martin Odegaard and Kieran Tierney through injury.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang meanwhile only made the bench.
Arteta would have therefore been hoping that a senior player like 29-year-old Lacazette would have taken command of this tie and dragged his team over the line by the scruff of their necks.
But he was largely quiet and entirely ineffective.
His two moments in the match came when Thomas Partey set him up for strike in the first half only for the Frenchman to smash the ball over the bar and into the empty stand behind.
And when he later hit the bar when one on one with the keeper after the break.
Arteta putting his head in his hands in response summed up both the effort and Lacazette’s match.
Left out to left-back
Cedric Soares returned for the Gunners at the halfway point of their 3-0 defeat by Liverpool last time out after Scotland international Kieran Tierney injured his knee.
It’s not ideal.
The defender isn’t a natural left-back, but Mikel Arteta has no one else to call upon and so the Portuguese had to step in and ‘do a job’.
Tierney’s injury is worse than first thought, and with Sead Kolasinac on loan at Schalke, Cedric is going to be playing left-back more regularly than he’d perhaps hoped when he put pen to paper with the Gunners.
But if Slavia Prague had identified the right-wing as an area to exploit on Thursday, you wouldn’t know it.
Cedric put in a solid performance for the Gunners and gave as good as he got in what was a physical contest at times.
No fans, no fun
It’s been said a million times already this season, but this was a match in which the Gunners really missed having supporters in the ground.
For the most part, the game was played in the middle of the park and was consistently broken up by strong tackles, misplaced passes and interceptions.
Arsenal had a few promising moments where they were on top, generally whenever Saka found himself in the Slavia Prague box with the ball at his feet.
But whenever Arsenal found some momentum by breaking or winning a corner or a free-kick – things that would generate an atmosphere – it was quickly stamped out by the Czech side.
Slavia Prague came to do a job; keep the Gunners at bay and attempt to keep a clean sheet.
They did their job very well, as boring as a spectacle they created, and they managed it primarily by breaking up momentum.