Arsenal suffered a late blow in the first-leg of their UEFA Europa League quarter-final against Slavia Prague last night, being held to a 1-1 draw by the Czech giants at the Emirates Stadium.
After taking the lead just four minutes from time through Nicolas Pepe’s fourth Europa League goal of the season, the Gunners thought they had done enough to take a one-goal advantage into next week’s second-leg, putting them halfway towards achieving their objective of reaching the semi-finals.
But with time running out, Slavia found a route back into the contest when defender Tomas Holes connected with a corner at the back-post, heading home a powerful effort that was too hot for Bernd Leno to handle.
Whilst Slavia’s players raced away to celebrate what could be a crucial away goal in the tie, the Gunners cut dejected figures, stood in disbelief at the late drama that had occurred.
For manager Mikel Arteta, who has now seen his side fail to win any of their last four matches in all competitions, the performance was a step up in quality from what was produced against Liverpool at the weekend, but it was a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal that was the missing ingredient.
He said: “I think the players stepped in and gave absolutely everything. It’s a really difficult opponent to play with.
“The amount of duels and individual man to man situations they create, we managed that really well in certain moments.
“We were much more aggressive today and ambitious to play some big chances and we didn’t put them away.”
Before Arteta had even emerged from the dressing room to provide his thoughts on the contest to the media, one interesting moment did occur on the pitch following the full-time whistle.
After a game of such magnitude in European football, it is quite often that you see opposition players chatting to one another and swapping shirts, especially if a big-name player has been involved in the contest.
And for Slavia hero Holes, who had never scored in European club football before in his career, he was determined to lay his hands on the shirt of Gunners right-back Hector Bellerin. The 28-year-old right-back went up to the Spaniard to see if he could claim his shirt and take it home with him as a souvenir.
However, the Slavia right-back’s wish did not come true as Bellerin refused to hand it over, despite shaking his hand. Bellerin walked away with his shirt still glued to his back, meaning Holes was unable to lay hands on it.
Unsurprisingly, that moment gained some traction on social media, with a few Arsenal fans reacting to Bellerin’s decision to refuse to hand the shirt over and Holes’ desire to lay his hands on it.
Below, football.london has taken a quick look at what some Gunners fans had to say on Twitter.
@IamKalama said: “Bellerin even denied holes his shirt…more of that, please.”
@CincyToLondon commented: “Bellerin cold shouldering that Holes cat was the best thing he did all night.”
@HaydenBurgess3 posted: “Hector Bellerin doesn’t like swapping shirts.”
The summer transfer window is just around the corner.
And the rumour mill is already starting to pick up speed.
Arsenal will not have a huge amount of money to spend, but Mikel Arteta will be hoping to make a number of moves, with loanee Martin Odegaard high up the list of priorities to bring in on a permanent deal.
But who would you sign? Get involved in our transfer window debate here.
@freeman_13s added: “Bellerin refusing to swap shirts with a Slavia Prague player – love to see it.”
As a side note, Bellerin captained Arsenal last night in the absence of striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who started the contest on the bench.
Explaining why he made that decision, Arteta said: “It was some big decisions to leave some players out but we decided to play the team who had the best chance to start the game and have some key players there to change the game when we need it.
“Once they came on they had a real impact, which is very necessary in this competition, and they did what we expect them to do.”