Slavia Prague scored a dramatic stoppage time equaliser to leave Arsenal’s Europa League ambitions hanging in the balance.
Substitute Nicolas Pepe thought he had earned the Gunners a slender quarter-final first-leg advantage when he broke the deadlock in the 86th minute.
But Tomas Holes headed home in the dying moments of the game from close range to give Slavia Prague a precious away goal.
The second leg in Prague takes place next Thursday (20:00 BST) and Gunners boss Mikel Arteta, despite his side conceding so late, still believes they will progress to the semi-finals.
“The mindset has to be to go there and score goals and win the game because we have to score if we want to go through,” said the Spaniard.
“I totally believe that we can go there and win the match, if not I wouldn’t be sitting here.”
Gunners have it all to do
Arteta stated he was in “shock” after his side’s tame 3-0 surrender to Liverpool last weekend, a performance which brought stinging criticism from both fans and pundits.
He reacted by making six changes – three of which were forced because of injuries – to his starting line-up, with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang the most high-profile casualty.
“Well, I cannot talk with everybody individually every week,” Arteta replied when asked how Aubameyang reacted to being dropped.
“We try to be transparent and communicate with the players as transparent as possible, for them to understand the role of the game that they have. When he came on he showed the right attitude.”
Aubameyang, who has 13 league and cup goals for his club this season but none since 6 March, cut a frustrated figure as he watched Willian, from a free-kick, clip the outside of the post before Alexandre Lacazette raced through, only to hit the bar.
Aubameyang was finally sent on after 78 minutes and made an impact as his pass allowed club-record £72m signing Pepe to race into the box and produce a composed finish past keeper Ondrej Kolar.
But Arsenal failed to see the game out and Holes’ back-post header means Arteta’s side have it all to do against the 2019-20 Czech champions in a week’s time.
Arsenal face big Prague test
With the Gunners lying 10th in the Premier League table, 10 points off a top four spot, winning the Europa League represents their most realistic chance of securing a Champions League spot next season.
They have not graced the Champions League stage since 2016-17 and they face a big test next week if they are to make it through to the semi-finals of Europe’s second-tier club knockout competition.
While this was an improvement on their previous outing, Arsenal rarely looked convincing against opponents who have beaten Leicester City and Rangers this season.
Rob Holding had a header tipped over the bar when the game was goalless, but at the other end Bernd Leno saved Jan Boril’s deflected shot while Lukas Provod hit the post before Holes got to a rebound inside the six-yard area to head his side level in the 93rd minute.
‘It’s a nightmare for Arsenal – analysis’
Former Arsenal and England player Karen Carney:
“It’s a nightmare for Arsenal, absolutely devastating. Arsenal had a lot of chances, Slavia Prague should have been dead and buried.”
Former Arsenal and England defender Martin Keown:
“It was about Arsenal and the way they played and by sitting off, I thought they chose the wrong tactics. It’s a disastrous result but it’s not the end.”
Arsenal’s defensive headache – the stats
- Arsenal have not kept a clean sheet in any of their past 14 games in all competitions, their longest such run since December 2019.
- Having lost their first three away games against English sides without scoring a single goal, Slavia Prague have lost just one of their past four such games in European competition (W1 D2), finding the net each time.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s assist for Arsenal’s opener was his 100th goal involvement in all competitions for Arsenal (84 goals, 16 assists).
- Slavia Prague’s Tomas Holes scored his first ever goal in major European competition, in what was his 14th appearance.
- Arsenal remain unbeaten in their nine European meetings with Czech opponents (W7 D2) – however, this was the first time they have failed to win a home game against a side from the Czech Republic.
- Nicolas Pepe has scored (four) and been involved in (seven) more Europa League goals for Arsenal than any other player this season.
Arsenal have an away game at the Premier League’s bottom club Sheffield United on Sunday (19:00 BST) to negotiate before the second leg next Thursday in Prague (20:00).
- 17Cédric Soares
- 18ParteySubstituted forElnenyat 78′minutes
- 7SakaSubstituted forPépéat 78′minutes
- 32Smith RoweSubstituted forCeballosat 88′minutes
- 12WillianSubstituted forMartinelliat 73′minutes
- 9LacazetteSubstituted forAubameyangat 78′minutes
- 49Lopez Salguero
- 6ZimaBooked at 47mins
- 7StanciuSubstituted forMasopustat 84′minutes
- 25HromadaSubstituted forSevcikat 45′minutes
- 19DorleySubstituted forLingrat 69′minutes
- 12SimaSubstituted forKuchtaat 69′minutes
- 9Oladeji OlayinkaSubstituted forTraoreat 85′minutes
Match ends, Arsenal 1, Slavia Prague 1.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 1, Slavia Prague 1.
Goal! Arsenal 1, Slavia Prague 1. Tomás Holes (Slavia Prague) header from the left side of the six yard box to the top left corner following a corner.
Corner, Slavia Prague. Conceded by Cédric Soares.
Attempt saved. Lukáš Provod (Slavia Prague) left footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Attempt missed. Alexander Bah (Slavia Prague) header from a difficult angle on the right is too high. Assisted by Jan Boril with a cross.
Dani Ceballos (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Jan Boril (Slavia Prague).
Substitution, Arsenal. Dani Ceballos replaces Emile Smith Rowe.
Goal! Arsenal 1, Slavia Prague 0. Nicolas Pépé (Arsenal) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitution, Slavia Prague. Ibrahim Benjanim Traore replaces Peter Oladeji Olayinka because of an injury.
Foul by Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal).
Alexander Bah (Slavia Prague) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Slavia Prague. Lukas Masopust replaces Nicolae Claudiu Stanciu.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Petr Sevcik.
Attempt blocked. Gabriel Martinelli (Arsenal) left footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Nicolas Pépé.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Tomás Holes.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Jan Boril.
Attempt missed. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) left footed shot from the right side of the six yard box misses to the left. Assisted by Emile Smith Rowe with a cross.
Substitution, Arsenal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replaces Alexandre Lacazette.