LONDON (Reuters) – Heavyweights Arsenal, Atletico Madrid and Lazio took big steps towards reaching the Europa League semi-finals after convincing home first-leg victories and RB Leipzig also stayed on course with a 1-0 win over Olympique de Marseille on Thursday.
Under pressure to win the continent’s second-tier competition as the likeliest route to Champions League football next season, Arsenal beat CSKA Moscow 4-1 with a blistering first-half performance.
Atletico, the 2012 Europa League winners, brushed aside Sporting Lisbon 2-0 while late goals from Felipe Anderson and Ciro Immobile gave Lazio a 4-2 win over Salzburg after the visiting Austrians had twice drawn level.
Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey and France striker Alexandre Lacazette scored two goals each for Arsenal, cancelling out a superb free kick by CSKA’s midfielder Aleksandr Golovin at the Emirates stadium.
Germany forward Mesut Ozil also shone as Arsenal’s crisp one-touch passing repeatedly carving open a cumbersome Russian defence.
Ramsey fired Arsenal ahead before Golovin equalised with an unstoppable shot into the top corner from 25 metres.
Lacazette restored Arsenal’s lead with a penalty and unleashed a swerving left-foot shot to make it 4-1 after Ramsey had scored his second, dispatching a brilliant lob over CSKA keeper Igor Akinfeev with his back to goal.
Ramsey, who hit the woodwork in the second half when Akinfeev made several fine saves, was delighted.
“I like to make those late runs into the box, I had plenty of opportunities but I am glad I was able to contribute to the team,” he told BT Sport.
“We know it will be difficult in Russia, but we have put ourselves in a good position.”
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger was also a happy man.
“I think we have done enough of a job tonight, there was a good pace in the first half, the two teams gave everything which is why is was such a spectacular first half,” he said.
Atletico, second in Spain’s La Liga, extended their winning home streak in all competitions to nine games after Koke scored inside the opening 30 seconds and Antoine Griezmann added the second shortly before halftime.
Both scorers took advantage of sloppy defending, with Diego Costa setting up Koke for the opener while Griezmann capitalised on an error by fellow Frenchman Jeremy Mathieu to fire a crisp low shot into the bottom corner.
Italy’s Lazio ended Salzburg’s 35-game unbeaten run stretching back to August after the Austrian side were undone by late goals from Anderson and Immobile.
Marco Parolo scored the game’s most eye-catching goal with a cheeky back-heel to give Lazio a 2-1 lead after a Valon Berisha penalty had cancelled out Senad Lulic’s opener in Rome.
Takumi Minamino made it 2-2 as adventurous Salzburg looked like causing an upset before Anderson and Immobile struck in quick succession.
Germany’s Leipzig, playing in European competition for the first time, put themselves in a good position to progress after a Timo Werner goal on the stroke of halftime sank Marseille.
The second legs take place next Thursday.
Reporting by Zoran Milosavljevic, Editing by Ed Osmond