Vintage Arsenal performance, Aaron Ramsey golazo have Gunners on way to Europa League semis

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Rare is the Arsenal game these days that is met with widespread enjoyment. Rare is the praise and confidence that used to flow freely in North London. One glance at the Premier League table, and another at the beleaguered figure on the touchline, are enough to explain why.

But Thursday, with the Premier League an afterthought, and in a competition that can make a frustrating Premier League season an afterthought for good, Arsenal put in a performance that harkened back to the good old days.

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The Gunners, as rampant as ever, smashed CSKA Moscow with a four-goal first half in the Europa League quarterfinals. They’ll take a 4-1 lead to Russia, and likely to the semis. And on Thursday’s evidence, they might just fancy themselves to lift a trophy next month as well.

They were certainly aided by a porous CSKA midfield and defense, and by a mercifully wasteful CSKA attack. But buoyed by Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil, they were excellent. They played vintage Arsenal football. They provided a perhaps even painful reminder of what Arsene Wenger’s best teams could do when they were on their game.

Ramsey was at his best, giving CSKA fits with his late runs into the box. He scored two, and easily could have had a hat trick. His second, and Arsenal’s third, was delightful:

Alexandre Lacazette, who has struggled in his first season in England, also got on the scoresheet twice. His first came from the penalty spot. He second was a left-footed strike that snuck into the corner:

The Gunners looked capable of scoring every time they went forward. They made use of overlapping fullbacks. They picked apart their visitors with one-twos in and around the box. Ozil was the focal point of it all, combining with fullbacks, with Ramsey, with Jack Wilshere and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Every outfield player had opportunities to get in on the act.

They showed the bad side of vintage Arsenal as well. They squandered a few opportunities by trying to overpass. They threw numbers forward with reckless abandon and left themselves susceptible on the counter. A better opponent likely would have punished them.

And CSKA technically still could. Aleksandr Golovin’s first-half free kick gave the Russian side an away goal, meaning a 3-0 victory back in Moscow – certainly not inconceivable – would eliminate the heavily favored Gunners. But if not inconceivable, it’s certainly unlikely.

Aaron Ramsey scored a special goal – Arsenal’s third of four in the first half – against CSKA Moscow in the Europa League. (Getty)
Aaron Ramsey scored a special goal – Arsenal’s third of four in the first half – against CSKA Moscow in the Europa League. (Getty)

Still, Arsenal’s work is far from done. CSKA is far from the biggest obstacle standing in its way. Atletico Madrid (2-0 over Sporting CP), Lazio (4-2 over Salzburg) and RB Leipzig (1-0 over Marseille) all won their respective first legs Thursday. If they hold on, they’d comprise one of the strongest semifinal fields the Europa League has ever seen.

They’d therefore provide stiff competition for a trophy Arsenal must win. The reward for triumph is a place in next season’s Champions League. The reward for a second-place finish or anything less is nada. The Gunners will need, at minimum, two more wins.

But after what we saw from them Thursday, even against inferior opposition, there’s no reason they can’t get those wins. And there’s no reason they can’t salvage an otherwise unsalvageable season.

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Henry Bushnell covers global soccer, and occasionally other ball games, for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Question? Comment? Email him at or follow him on Twitter @HenryBushnell.

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