Arsenal 4, CSKA Moscow 1
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger hailed the quality of Aaron Ramseys finishing after the midfielders goals swept his team to the brink of the Europa League last four.
Ramsey and striker Alexandre Lacazette scored two each in a first-half dismantling of CSKA Moscow that Wenger called “spectacular” and affords the Gunners a handsome lead to take to Russia next week.
“He has no injury problem at all any more, and when he can play game after game you see that not only is he involved in the build-up — he goes to the end,” said Wenger.
”And what has changed since 2013 is he is a much better finisher. He is calm, the way he finishes, you see he is composed. Before he rushed a little bit.”
Arsenal showed flashes of their slick best on the way to a fifth successive win but Wenger admitted that at times the match had been too open even for him.
“It was a spectacular first half played at high pace but as well an uncomfortable one for me because they looked dangerous as well,” he added.
“We scored some great goals in the first half and at half-time the target was not to concede any more and if possible add another. We did the first part of the job but not the second part.
“On the other hand it will help us to focus completely in the second game and not think its job done. Its not over; we have to go there with the right focus and try to win the game.”
CSKA fielded a back three with a combined age of 108 — incredibly, Aleksei and Vasili Berezutski and Sergei Ignashevich all played when the two sides last met in 2006 — and a sprightly Arsenal ran them ragged in a breathless first half.
Ramsey repeatedly took advantage of gaping holes in the visitors midfield to get forward and opened the scoring after just seven minutes when he placed a rising shot past Igor Akinfeev from Hector Bellerins low centre.
CSKA responded quickly through classy midfielder Aleksandr Golovins floated free-kick into Petr Cechs top-left corner and the visitors should have taken the lead seconds later when Ahmed Musa sat Granit Xhaka down but the on-loan Leicester forward hit the side-netting.
Arsenal regained the lead midway through the half when Lacazette, making a first start since January due to injury, sent Akinfeev the wrong way from the spot following left-back Georgi Schennikovs foul on Mesut Ozil.
It was the first of three goals in 12 minutes as the Gunners found their sweet spot and, with Ozil conducting, bewildered the Russians.
The Germany playmakers chip allowed Ramsey to score the pick of the nights goals, a pirouetting mid-air flick over a stranded Akinfeev that drew gasps from the crowd — closer to full than in recent games, though seemingly still a few thousand short of capacity —when replayed on the big screens.
Lacazette scored his second and Arsenals fourth when Ozils cut-back found him on the edge of the box and the France striker took one touch before firing his 12th goal of the season into the bottom corner.
The Gunners might have ensured a greater lead to take to Moscow for next weeks return leg but Ozil flicked narrowly over at the back post and Ramsey missed a slew of chances to complete his hat-trick after half-time.