The disparity in performances for Arsenal in the Premier League and the Europa League has been palpable. In the Premier League, Arsenal have come up short far too often and have failed to look anything other than lucky since the opening day of the season, meanwhile, in the Europa League, Arsenal have blown the competition away with some stunning attacking displays and convincing victories.
Though Arsenal had already qualified for the Round of 32 following their impressive 3-0 win over Molde last Thursday, Arsenal had the chance to confirm qualification as group winners with a win at home to Rapid Wien. There was a boost for Mikel Arteta going into the match as Pablo Marí was declared fit following his knee injury against Manchester City in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and Calum Chambers returning from a long-term injury as well.
Though Chambers was not entrusted to start the match, Marí did and Arsenal were able to flex their muscles in defence with the return of a left-footed central defender to fill the void, given Gabriel Magalhães’ absence.
The other significance of the game, was the return, of fans to the Emirates Stadium. Though the stadium only allowed 2,000 fans (roughly 3% of the stadium’s overall capacity) to return, it was a boost for Arsenal to be playing at home with the fans behind them.
Arsenal started well with creativity mainly be funnelled through the flanks, with Nicolas Pépé and Reiss Nelson both looking lively, however, it was through the middle that Arsenal grabbed their first goal. A stroke of good fortune allowed Alexandre Lacazette (playing in the number ten role) to collect the ball from deep, push forward and then let off a lethal effort from a good thirty yards out, which swerved past Rapid Wien goalkeeper Richard Streinberger, to give the home side the lead.
From there, it was basically one-way traffic. Though Shkodran Mustafi came close with a low header at the back-post, it was the returning Pablo Marí who doubled the home side’s advantage eight minutes later to mark a stunning return to the team and his first goal for the club.
From there, Arsenal grew into the game more and more and began to grow in confidence, not least in the form of players like Nelson and Eddie Nketiah, who linked up well throughout the first-half. And the duo combined once again as Arsenal strung together a beautiful team goal, culminating in Pépé feeding Nelson, who laid off Nketiah, who’s initial shot was saved, but the youngster headed home his own rebound, giving Arsenal a three-goal advantage at half-time.
Arsenal seemed to take their foot off the gas in the second half and it was no real surprise to see Rapid Wien score after Arsenal’s calamitous defence was exposed and Japanese international Kohya Kitagawa fired home from close range.
The second-half also saw Mikel Arteta make a few sweeping changes, mainly to preserve fitness, with one eye likely already on Sunday’s North London Derby with Tottenham Hotspur, so it came as no great surprise to see Lacazette withdrawn in favour of Emile Smith-Rowe and the youngster repaid the manager’s faith in him by rounding off a superb bit of play from Ainsley Maitland-Niles to score the Gunner’s fourth.
The final whistle blew as Arsenal were confirmed as Group B winners, but there was always the feeling that Arsenal could have scored more. Though Arsenal created many chances (something that has been in short supply for a while now), there was a startling lack of end product in the youngsters, despite the high scoreline.
This is unlikely to matter though, as the game gave Arsenal a lot of positives to draw from.
The return of Pablo Marí means that the aforementioned Gabriel Magalhães now has competition as Arsenal’s left-sided defender and his goal shows that Arsenal’s set-piece delivery has a little more threat added to it than before.
Though Lacazette had not been able to impact the team in a particularly meaningful way against Molde, there were signs that the Frenchman’s position of number ten might be a good idea moving forward, especially as Arsenal look to move Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang more centrally and last night showed the Frenchman’s promise in the role. Lacazette dropped deep to collect the ball, spotted a number of good passes open to him and managed to add a more creative element than Arsenal have seen of late.
Indeed, Lacazette’s form also suggested that a 4-2-3-1 is a formation that Arsenal should look into more often. Though Arteta ostensibly favours a 4-3-3, a distinct lack of personnel in the positions required deems the formation nigh unworkable, however, Lacazette could be a good option in the central role, especially given Mesut Özil’s continued exile.
Another thing for Arteta to ponder, is the performance of Ainsley Maitland-Niles. Though the youngster has often been deployed out wide under both Arsène Wenger and Unai Emery, the England international has made no secret of his preference for playing through the middle of the park, rather than out wide. Last night proved to be his first outing in the position for some time, and he performed admirably. Though there were still frustrating reminders of Maitland-Niles’ shortcomings, such as his over casual attitude and a tendency to be caught out of position far too often, the 23-year-old definitely laid down a marker for playing in the position full-time. Maitland-Niles combined well with Mohamed Elneny in midfield and he seemed to learn in game. A mazy run early on had been unlucky not to yield another goal, but he may have done better to square to Pépé or Lacazette, from this, Maitland-Niles seemed to learn his lesson and was able to square the ball for the easiest goal that Smith-Rowe will likely ever score.
Last night served as a reminder of just how dangerous Arsenal can be when they put their minds to it, but Arsenal fans have seen this all before. World class performances on a Thursday, followed by a lacklustre effort on a Sunday have given Arsenal fans cause to be wary before now, but with the added boost of the possible return of Thomas Partey, it seems as though Arsenal fans could have a reason to be moderately optimistic ahead of Sunday’s trip to Tottenham in the North London Derby.
|🏴 Arsenal (Q) 🏆||5||5||0||0||16||3||+13||15|
|🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)||5||3||0||2||7||9||-2||9|
|🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien||5||2||0||3||9||11||-2||6|
|🇮🇪 Dundalk FC||5||0||0||5||6||15||-9||0|
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
17.) Cédric Soares
20.) Shkodran Mustafi (Chambers 70’)
22.) Pablo Marí
31.) Sead Kolašinac
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Ceballos 63’)
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
24.) Reiss Nelson (Willian 63’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Smith-Rowe 63’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 81’)
1.) Bernd Leno
33.) Matt Macey
16.) Rob Holding
21.) Calum Chambers
3.) Kieran Tierney
66.) Miguel Azeez
8.) Dani Ceballos
28.) Joe Willock
32.) Emile Smith-Rowe
7.) Bukayo Saka
38.) Folarian Balogun
Rapid Wien team:
1.) Richard Streinberger
6.) Mario Sonnleitner
20.) Maximilian Hoffman (Barac 45’)
30.) Leo Greimel
36.) Kelvin Arase
48.) Yusuf Demir
42.) Lion Schuster
8.) Marcel Ritzmaier (Knasmüllner 66’)
31.) Maximilian Ullmann (Shick 45’)
32.) Kohya Kitagawa (Kara 66’)
19.) Deni Alar (Sulzbacher 78’)
Rapid Wien subs:
25.) Paul Gartler
45.) Niklas Held
4.) Mateo Barać
13.) Thorsten Shick
14.) Srdjan Grahovac
22.) Filip Stojković
28.) Christoph Knasmüllner
29.) Ercan Kara
37.) Lukas Sulzbacher
40.) Melih İbrahimoğlu