Arsenal produced a superb first-half display to romp into the semi-finals of the Europa League with victory over Slavia Prague, setting up a clash with former manager Unai Emery and his Villarreal side.
Having conceded a late away goal in the 1-1 first-leg draw a week ago, the Gunners went to Prague with work to do, but three goals in six minutes from Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka put the tie to bed within the opening half-hour. Lacazette struck again with a quarter-of-an-hour to play to seal a 4-0 win on the night and 5-1 aggregate triumph.
The Gunners were boosted by the availability of Emile Smith Rowe and Saka after minor injuries, but has to do without both Martin Odegaard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the latter confirming on social media shortly before kick-off that he has been suffering with malaria.
The young English duo of Saka and Smith Rowe looked to have combined to open the scoring when the former’s effort was tipped onto the post and the latter tucked in the rebound but a lengthy VAR check revealed the tightest of offside calls.
No matter, for the Gunners did not have to wait long for the crucial early goal to arrive as Smith Rowe showed good feet and persistence to slide in Pepe to finish calmly from a tight angle.
The second followed just three minutes later, when Saka was brought down from behind inside the box and Lacazette stepped up to stroke into the bottom corner.
Saka then added his own name to the scoresheet, skipping inside his man and firing in at the nearest to all-but end the tie as a contest, with Slavia needing four.
In truth, they never looked like getting one and manager Jindřich Trpišovský threw in the towel by taking off four of his most important players at the interval, with the game clearly lost.
It was a luxury Arteta eventually enjoyed, too, using Lacazette’s second – a cool finish after a clever turn – as the cue to withdraw the Frenchman, Thomas Partey and Saka, with Smith Rowe already having made way.
Gabriel Martinelli was one of those to enter the fray and almost added a fifth after a terrific run from wide on the left touchline.