Aaron Ramsey and Alexandre Lacazette led the way as Arsenal crushed CSKA Moscow 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium in the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final, putting the Gunners in complete control of the tie.
The competition offers Arsenal their only realistic chance of securing Champions League football for next season and on this evidence, they will take some beating, as they swept their visitors aside with consummate ease on Thursday.
Although Ramsey’s early opener was quickly canceled out by a delightful Aleksandr Golovin free-kick, Arsenal rarely looked in danger of failing to win, as the brilliant Mesut Ozil soon turned on the style to win a penalty that Lacazette fired home.
Ozil then set up Ramsey for his glorious improvised second, before also picking out Lacazette – starting for the first time since 30 January – as the Gunners opened up a three-goal lead.
Chances continued to fall Arsenal’s way after the interval, though they were nowhere near as clinical and CSKA appeared to take encouragement from that, but Alan Dzagoev’s header was disallowed for offside.
Although Ramsey was denied his hat-trick by the post, there were to be no further goals, as Arsene Wenger’s men take a comprehensive lead into next week’s return leg in Moscow.
Arsenal made an imperious start and went ahead after just nine minutes, as Ramsey – who had an earlier goal disallowed – rifled an emphatic finish past Igor Akinfeev from the centre of the penalty area.
Golovin got CSKA an away goal soon after, bending a sumptuous free-kick into the top-right corner from just outside the area.
But at the back, the away side looked absolutely hapless and that allowed the Gunners to restore their lead in the 23rd minute – Georgy Schennikov clumsily tripping Ozil in the area and Lacazette confidently dispatched the resulting spot-kick.
Ramsey then doubled his tally in style just before the half-hour mark, latching on to Ozil’s chipped pass and flicking it over the head of Akinfeev with a delicate cushioned effort using the outside of his right foot.
Arsenal were rampant and a fourth arrived in the 35th minute, as Lacazette joined Ramsey in getting a second, finding the bottom-left corner with a smart finish after a well-placed cut-back from the immense Ozil.
Ramsey looked desperate to complete his hat-trick, going close twice within 10 minutes of the restart – an effort deflecting off Sergei Ignashevich and going just wide before he then fired over from the middle of the area after Akinfeev could only parry Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s long-range effort.
The Armenian was then forced off with an innocuous-looking injury just after the hour, with Alex Iwobi taking his place.
And Iwobi quickly found himself involved, racing on to Jack Wilshere’s pass into the right side of the box, but instead of shooting he tried to pick out the offside Lacazette and the chance was wasted.
Ramsey went agonisingly close to getting his coveted third goal 12 minutes from time when he saw a first-time 18-yard strike come back off the right-hand post, but it is unlikely Arsenal will be made to rue that miss as they head to Russia with a commanding lead.
In other Europa League results:
Atletico Madrid 2-0 Sporting
Lazio 4-2 Salzburg
RB Leipzig 1-0 Olympique Marseille
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