By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Serge Gnabry’s well-taken goal was enough to see off the challenge of CSKA Moscow and book Arsenal’s place in the semi-finals of the NextGen Series.
On a freezing cold night in north London, the Club’s rising stars put on an accomplished display in front of more than 6,600 fans at Emirates Stadium.
Gnabry missed a great chance in the fifth minute when his diving header flew straight at CSKA keeper Sergey Revyakin, but he made no mistake in the 56th minute.
The prodigious German forward played a lovely one-two with the lively Hector Bellerin, took a touch past a defender in the area and slotted it into the far corner. It was a strike that spoke volumes about the 17-year-old’s composure and potential.
That proved to be enough for Terry Burton’s men, who will now face London rivals Chelsea in the semi-finals at Lake Como, Italy on Friday afternoon.
Burton made two changes to the side that won 1-0 at Inter Milan in the last 16, with Kyle Ebecilio replacing Elton Monteiro and Thomas Eisfeld coming in for Zak Ansah. Gnabry passed a late fitness test and started in attack alongside Chuba Akpom, who has played every minute of Arsenal’s NextGen Series campaign.
The first half was something of a cat-and-mouse affair, with Arsenal controlling the game but finding it difficult to break through a well-organised Moscow backline. However, it could all have been very different had Gnabry buried the early chance that came his way.
With just five minutes on the clock, a flowing move saw the ball arrive at Bellerin’s feet on the right and he curled an inviting cross into the six-yard box. Gnabry was in the right place at the right time, but his diving header from six yards was straight at the keeper, who held it gratefully. It was a glorious opportunity
CSKA beat the likes of Chelsea, Ajax and PSV en route to the quarter-finals and they showed their own attacking threat moments later when Dmitry Efremov was played through on goal. However, the Moscow forward delayed his shot momentarily and allowed Sead Hajrovic to make a crucial block.
Chances were at a premium for the rest of the opening 45 minutes, although Gnabry and Eisfeld both went close to breaking the deadlock as the Gunners pressed and probe. But Moscow remained a threat on the break, and Anton Polyutkin had a half-chance on the stroke of half time but failed to control a through ball and allowed Bellerin to clear.
Arsenal upped the ante at the start of the second half with Olsson combining well with Eisfeld moments after the restart, but the German midfielder fired just wide from the edge of the area. But the hosts now had the bit between their teeth and eventually found their way through.
Gnabry was at the heart of it as he raced powerfully through the CSKA midfield and found the onrushing Bellerin. The young right back kept his composure to collect the ball and then find the 17-year-old, who had continued his run into the area. Gnabry may have missed the earlier chance that fell his way, but he wasn’t about to make the same mistake here as he took a touch and found the corner with a cool finish.
The hosts remained on the front foot as firstly Akpom and then Eisfeld tested Sergey Revyakin in quick succession. The CSKA keeper then had to be alert to keep out Martin Angha in the 68th minute after the Swiss defender had weaved his way to the edge of the box, played a one-two with Gnabry and then struck a firm shot.
Angha again tested the under-fire Revyakin with a drive from 20 yards as Burton’s side turned the screw but they just could not find the second goal that would kill the tie. Indeed, in injury time Eisfeld stuck a fierce 25-yard free kick that rattled the bar before being cleared, as Moscow rode their luck.
But ultimately it made no difference, as Arsenal booked an all-London semi-final against Chelsea this Friday. It promises to be some contest.
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