Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny admitted his side came close to a Europa League meltdown at CSKA Moscow on Thursday where they recovered from two goals down to snatch a 2-2 draw and reach the semi-finals 6-3 on aggregate.
Having built a 4-1 lead in the first leg in north London last week it seemed Arsenal had plenty of room for error in the CSKA Arena but they were wobbling when Fedor Chalov and Kirill Nababkin scored to give the hosts hope of a memorable fightback.
Danny Welbeck’s well-crafted 75th-minute goal and a stoppage time effort from Aaron Ramsey eventually secured a comfortable-looking aggregate victory to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for the Champions League by winning the competition.
But with the likes of Atletico Madrid and Olympique de Marseille in Friday’s draw, Koscielny saidArsenal can ill afford to take their foot off the gas as they appeared to do in a lacklustre opening hour in Moscow.
“It was not the plan. I think we missed a lot of movement, to be available for our team mates,” Koscielny told BT Sport.
“We didn’t win duels. They played well, had opportunities and took them. It put pressure on us, if they score (a third goal) we are out. So I am happy because we came back, but our performance was not enough for the stage of the competition.”
Arsenal are sixth in the Premier League and have little chance of qualifying for the Champions League via a top-four finish so the Europa League is their last hope.
“We will see the draw, but we need more confidence in our game,” the French defender said. “It’s our last chance to qualify for the Champions League, so we will fight until the end.”
Manager Arsene Wenger looked a disgruntled figure on the Arsenal bench for much of the night as CSKA grew in confidence to lead 2-0 by the 50th minute.
“I feel that maybe we were a bit surprised by the intensity at the start,” he said.
“We were in trouble in the first half. After that we came back. It was a good response from us after the break, the first half the distances were too big. At 2-1 we looked good to get to 2-2 and we did.”
Arsenal have reached the semi-finals of a European competition for the first time since the 2008-09 Champions League campaign.