This was supposed to be a leisure Thursday night stroll. It turned into an evening of unnecessary nerve-wracking trauma for Arsenal.
Leading CSKA Moscow 4-1 from the first-leg; Arsenal had one foot in the Europa League semi-final.
But they very nearly had their other foot swept swiftly from underneath them in Russia as CSKA threatened yet another miraculous European comeback.
CSKA were brave and exuberant. Arsenal feeble and lacklustre. Here in Moscow; Arsene Wenger got away with one. Big time.
In the light of Roma’s miraculous comeback against Barcelona on Tuesday, Wenger warned his players of the perils of complacency ahead of last night’s clash. They obviously didn’t heed his advice.
The Russians’ vibrant opening was matched by their supporters who more than made up for the sparse travelling crowd.
But much like last week’s first-leg, CSKA were impressive to a point during the first 30 minutes. That point being the final ball. Pass after pass was intercepted by Arsenal’s back-four.
Kristjian Bistrovic tried his luck from distance as his team toiled in penetrating Arsenal’s barriers – but his effort proved just as fruitless.
You began to get the impression that CSKA’s valiant efforts would be in vain; for all their positive play they weren’t laying a glove on the Gunners.
But then, out of the blue, the team in blue had Arsenal on the ropes.
Petr Cech did well to stop Kirill Nababkin’s downward header from Konstantin Kuchaev’s cross, but the goalkeeper was helpless to prevent Fedor Chalov from tapping home the rebound in the 39th minute.
And sure enough it arrived in the 50th minute as Nababkin fired home from close range in the 50th minute.
Arsenal were rattled, Wenger’s decision to bring on defender Calum Chambers for Jack Wilshere told you all you needed to know.
Sergei Ignashevich fired narrowly wide from distance as CSKA looked to complete their comeback but Danny Welbeck broke Russian hearts in the 75th minute firing home to ensure Arsenal’s semi-final spot before Aaron Ramsey levelled on the night in injury time.