CSKA Moscow v Arsenal: MATCH PREVIEW
- Credit: Picture: DANNY LOO
Arsenal are plotting to reach their first European semi-final since losing out to Manchester United in the last four of the Champions League in 2008-09, after knocking out Villarreal in the quarter-finals.
The Islington Gazette paid a visit to London Colney on Wednesday morning to watch the team go through their paces in their open training session ahead of flying to Moscow.
While trade secrets are never going to be revealed in such gatherings what was noticeable was the espirit de corps among the squad, supplemented by the youthful exuberance of talented teenagers who have helped steer the Gunners to the serious end of the tournament.
Alexandre Lacazette will hoping to continue from where he left off in the first leg and will be aiming to fire the Gunners to the last four in a bid to reach the final which is to be held at the ground of his former club Lyon.
Laurent Koscielny is expected to return to the starting line-up while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is ineligible. Granit Xhaka did not make the trip due to flu with Henrikh Mkhitaryan not expected to play again in April and may even miss the rest of the season after ligament damage.
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Arsenal take a 4-1 lead to the second leg in Moscow after swamping the Russians at the Emirates with two goals each from Aaron Ramsey and Alexandere Lacazette sealing the match – if not the tie – for Arsene Wenger’s side in a hectic first half, which saw Gunners transfer target Alexsandr Golovin level with a free kick.
While the match will be remembered for Ramsey’s superb version of his own ‘Scorpion Kick’ which put the home side 3-1 up, Arsenal will have to be wary of the threat posed in Moscow if they are to progress to Friday’s semi-final draw.
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CSKA boss Viktor Goncharenko – who made his name in his native Belarus with five titles at BATE Borisov as well as leading the club into the group stages of the Champions League three times – is expected to again start with an experienced team including the veteran Berezutski brothers, Sergei and Vasili along with Sergei Ignashevich and the experienced 32-year-old goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev.
Wenger has respect for his opponents, saying: “Russian teams always have a good technical level. They have a good football culture, a long history in the game.
“You always respect them. I always had difficult games against Russian teams. We know we face a tough opponent.
Arsenal might be without a win in three trips to Moscow under the long-serving Frenchman - but having made seven changes for Sunday’s entertaining 3-2 victory over Mark Hughes Southampton, it is expected Mesut Ozil and Ramsey will return to the starting XI in Moscow.
Travelling Gunners fans once again underlined their well-earned reputation as peaceable and law-abiding after a trouble-free pre-match ahead of kick-off.
Mora than 300 flew from the UK Britain to support their heroes –a figure set to double once Gunners fans from Eastern European countries are set to be included.
Despite the increased tension between the UK Government and the Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin over the poisoning of Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter with a nerve agent in Salisbury in March there have been no reported problems in Moscow on Thursday afternoon.