Arsenal’s UEFA Europa League campaign started away in Austria. Though considered the favourites heading into the tie, it was perhaps not the ideal time for Arsenal to be playing away from home against, what is ostensibly their toughest group opponent.
The strong selection should give Arsenal fans an inclination as to how importantly Mikel Arteta is taking the competition, at least as far as qualifying top of their group goes.
The team was mainly bolstered by the fact that new acquisition Thomas Partey made his full-Arsenal debut, with Granit Xhaka dropped to the bench and Dani Ceballos left back in North London.
The first half was a fairly uneventful affair. Arsenal struggled to maintain possession and the constant whistling for free-kicks broke up whatever momentum the Gunners had going at that point. Yellow cards were brandished left, right and centre in the first half, with Partey, Eddie Nketiah and Alexandre Lacazette all finding themselves in Pavel Královec’s book before the half-time whistle blew.
There were some shaky moments at the back, not least when Gabriel Magalhães’ deflected slide-tackle was prevented from rattling the back of the Arsenal net by an outstretched Bernd Leno.
The second-half was a far more lively affair and soon Arsenal found themselves better able to control possession. Partey and Elneny began to dictate play more for Arsenal in midfield, however, it was the home-side who took an unexpected lead.
One of the main criticisms of Unai Emery’s tenure with the club had been his insistence on playing-out-from-the-back with players who were ill-suited to the tactic. Though Mikel Arteta has players like David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhães more suited to the tactic now more than ever, it didn’t stop Arsenal calamitously (and somewhat humorously) struggle to play the ball out of their own 18-yard box, gifting the ball to striker Taxiarchis Fountas, who slotted home the opener.
These things happen and Arsenal will likely move past it with no problem, but it was a rare mistake from such a superb goalkeeper and the mix-up highlighted Arsenal’s issues with waiting to commit the player before committing the ball, as is Arteta’s insistence.
Rapid Wien’s lead only lasted for around twenty minutes however as Arsenal soon found their way back into the game. A needless foul by Ritzmaier on Nicolas Pépé led to a free-kick, which the aforementioned Ivorian whipped in with stunning accuracy and was met gratefully by David Luiz who brought the away side level.
From there, it was pretty much one-way traffic. Arsenal dictated the possession and the rhythm of the game. While Partey’s performance and passing had been excellent, it was Mohamed Elneny who broke the defensive line of Rapid, with an inch-perfect pass into the path of substitute Héctor Bellerín, who was able to play the ball beautifully into the feet of fellow-substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored what is likely the easiest goal he will have all season, in a move very similar to Arsenal’s second goal against Leicester City in Emery’s first season.
From there, Arsenal pushed for a third, but no such chances were forthcoming; some decent breaks were enough to make Rapid sweat, but it was the continued bizarre performance of Bernd Leno that gave Arsenal cause for concern. The German goalkeeper, kept in favour of Emiliano Martínez, who left for Aston Villa for £20m in the summer, was uncharacteristically unreliable as he was caught out for the first goal, came close to conceding a second not soon after for the same mistake and was almost caught out in yet another comedy of errors that would have had Charlie Chaplin blushing, with David Luiz, which saw Gabriel Magalhães forced to come back and recover for his two teammates.
The final whistle blew and drew an end to the match, Three points will be all Arteta will care about, but there were plenty of positives to go with the negatives.
Mesut Özil may not be in the squad, which led to another black hole of creativity, but Thomas Partey, recently signed for £45m from Atlético Madrid on deadline day, looked to be every bit the player Arsenal need.
The Ghanian was everywhere for Arsenal, breaking up attacks, throwing himself into blocks and tackles and running the show creatively from midfield. He was able to pick out several key passes that started Arsenal attacks and his long-range passing will likely compliment Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos nicely.
Elsewhere, the continued solidity of Gabriel Magalhães is sure to impress. The Brazilian joined from Lille for £27m in the summer and is looking every bit the player that Arsenal wanted. He may have been signed for his preference of left-footed passing, but the Brazilian looks composed in the air, calm in possession, unscuppered by the thought of tackling and capable of showing attackers down the line and into a corner they seldom emerge from.
While Partey will take the headlines as Arsenal’s most crucial signing and biggest, the Brazilian is quietly going about his duties and is providing Arsenal with a competent central defender, not seen since Laurent Koscielny, the previous wearer of the number six.
There was plenty for Arsenal to feast on, but for now, the attention turns to Leicester City on Sunday and then Dundalk on Thursday.
|🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)||1||1||0||0||2||1||+1||3|
|🏴 Arsenal (Q)||1||1||0||0||2||1||+1||3|
|🇮🇪 Dundalk FC||1||0||0||1||1||2||-1||0|
|🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien||1||0||0||1||1||2||-1||0|
1.) Bernd Leno
17.) Cédric Soares (Bellerín 61’)
23.) David Luiz
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
31.) Sead Kolašinac
18.) Thomas Partey
25.) Mohamed Elneny
7.) Bukayo Saka (Tierney 84’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Nelson 94’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Aubameyang 61’)
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Willock 84’)
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
33.) Matt Macey
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
2.) Héctor Bellerín
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
20.) Joe Willock
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Rapid Wien team:
1.) Richard Strebinger
36.) Kelvin Arase
22.) Filip Stojković
20.) Max Hofmann
4.) Mateo Barać
31.) Max Ullmann
39.) Dejan Ljubicic
14.) Srdjan Grahovac
8.) Marcel Ritzmaier
29.) Ercan Kara
9.) Taxiarchis Fountas
Rapid Wien subs:
21.) Bernhard Unger
25.) Paul Gartler
6.) Mario Sonnleitner
13.) Thorsten Schick
16.) Dejan Petrovič
19.) Deni Alar
28.) Christoph Knasmüllner
30.) Leo Greiml
32.) Kohya Kitagawa
37.) Lukas Sulzbacher
40.) Melih Ibrahimoglu
43.) Dragoljub Savić