Tomas Holes’ header in added time saw Slavia Prague win a 1-1 draw at Arsenal in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.
The draw seemed destined to move towards a goalless draw after the home side missed many promising openings in the Emirates.
However, with just four minutes to go, substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang slipped Nicolas Pepe on goal and the Ivorian striker kept his cool to pass the ball past Slavia No 1 Ondrej Kolar for his fourth goal of the season in the Europa League. .
But just when Arsenal believed they had taken a slim lead ahead of next Thursday night’s rematch in the Czech capital, Holes barged in to get home at the far post to burst the Gunners’ bubble.
How stubborn Slavia frustrated Arsenal
Arsenal would have known before kick-off how difficult a test awaited them in what was their 16th major European quarter-final and nothing that happened in the first half would have changed their minds, with Slavia generally proving to be stubborn opponents.
The visitors, who knocked out Leicester City and Rangers in the previous two knockout rounds, actually had the first effort on goal when Lukas Provod narrowly shot over the bar from the edge of the zone, but were content to defend in depth thereafter.
However, while their opponents are largely happy to sit down and play on the clock, Arsenal struggled to create sharp openings in a lackluster first half, although Bukayo Saka should have done better when played. to the goal just before the half hour. Mark.
The England international, returning from an injury, sidelined the side of the far post with just Kolar to beat and even though the flag was raised for offside, replays showed the goal would have been held if the striker had found the back of the net.
Rob Holding also came close to a header that Kolar tilted more than six minutes before half-time as the teams tied at the break, only for the hosts to pick up the pace in the second half in search of this crucial first match.
Within four minutes of the restart, the always dangerous Saka was dragged right to the edge of the zone, only for Willian’s resulting free kick to beat the still Kolar, but not outside the post.
Slavia were not without their own threatening moments at the break, however, with Bernd Leno’s stretched leg set to keep Jan Boril’s weak training just ahead of the hour, before Alexandre Lacazette pushed back the opening the most. clear of the night a few minutes later.
The visitors were in fact on the attack and yet moments later Lacazette found himself a one-on-one with Kolar after Oscar Dorley lost possession halfway, only for the forward de France completed his shot against the post and the bar, with Emile Smith Rowe. unable to convert the rebound.
In what became an end-to-end contest, Slavia missed his own golden opportunity when substitute Petr Sevcik somehow missed the mark with just Leno to beat, Mikel Arteta deciding after he had seen enough as the Arsenal manager featured Aubameyang, Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli in attack.
Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe returned to Arsenal XI as the young couple missed Liverpool on Sunday. These were two of the six changes – Hector Bellerin, Cedric Soares, Granit Xhaka and Willian also entering the starting squad.
Kieran Tierney and Martin Odegaard missed an injury, with Calum Chambers also missing out on the day’s squad. Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all fell on the bench.
The changes almost paid immediate dividends as Aubameyang passed the far post after a building game involving Pepe and Smith Rowe, before Arsenal finally made a deserved breakthrough.
Aubameyang was involved, holding the ball skillfully, before feeding his fellow submarine and the Ivorian did the rest by escaping his marker and passing the ball past Kolar.
But just as Arsenal believed they had done enough for the win, they failed to handle a stoppage corner, with the ball coming in from the right somehow finding its way to the unmarked holes at the far post, with the Czech Republic on the right- back leaning to pass Leno.
Arsenal face struggling Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Sunday, with the game starting at 7pm.
Meanwhile, Slavia face their league rivals Sparta Prague at 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.