Last Thursday had proven the perfect opportunity for Arsenal to cement their place at the top of Group A. Top spot would, of course, miss out on the nasty Round of 32 ties, which would see second placed qualifiers forced to face off against the drop-outs of this seasons Champions League, which are: Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayer Leverkusen, Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar and Sporting CP.
A debilitating 2-0 loss in Eindhoven, meant that Arsenal would need a win (or to better PSV’s result) in order to top the group. An emphatic thrashing of Nottingham Forest on Sunday had restored the team’s pride and now they needed to focus on securing top spot.
There were some encouraging signs for fans early on. Mohamed Elneny and Oleksandr Zinchenko were both in the matchday squad and Bukayo Saka, who was feared to be injured for Sunday’s trip to Chelsea, was also deemed fit.
Uncharacteristically for Arsenal, especially at home, they started off very poorly. Though FC Zürich were bottom of Group A, they knew better than anyone that if they were able to grab a result while Bodø/Glimt lost to PSV, they would be in with a shout of dropping into the UEFA Conference League.
As a result, they began to pummel Arsenal with everything they had.
Despite their constant pressure, Zürich were unable to really make any of their chances count in any meaningful way and very few ultimately troubled Aaron Ramsdale.
Despite the run of play, it was the home team who opened the scoring.
A fantastic ball from Fábio Vieira allowed Benjamin White ample room on the wing to play a great cross into the penalty area. Arsenal were unable to steer the ball goalwards and it instead fell to Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box, who smashed home a beautiful half-volley into the bottom corner.
It was against the run of play, but Arsenal didn’t care.
From there, the game didn’t really amount to much in either half.
The constant stoppages from the referee, blowing his whistle every time there was a tackle, meant that neither team was especially capable of keeping the ball for protracted periods of time, nor were they able to get much rhythm going.
Arsenal pushed hard for a second, but they were unable to break down Zürich’s low-block.
Zürich did, at one point, have an equaliser, however, the linesman’s flag was raised for offside and they were further denied.
The final whistle blew on what was ultimately a very boring and very nervy match for Arsenal fans.
Arsenal, by and large, will not really care how tough the game was, more than they were able to qualify for the next round as group winners.
Avoiding two unnecessary fixtures against exceptionally tough European opposition is not what Arsenal would have wanted and the fact that Premier League rivals Manchester United were unable to get the required goal-differential victory over Real Sociedad, meaning they are forced to play in. the Round of 32, will have made qualification all the sweeter.
Its fair to say that it was not a performance in which many covered themselves in glory. Perhaps the only real standout on the night was Kieran Tierney.
Though there were admirable performances from Aaron Ramsdale, Benjamin White and Eddie Nketiah, it was Tierney who shone brightest of the bunch for Arsenal.
The fact that Takehiro Tomiyasu looked to leave the field injured, will no doubt give Tierney some hope that he can make the left-back role his own in the Japanese international’s absence, even with the return of Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Now, a trip to Stamford Bridge beckons. Arsenal will fancy their chances, especially given Chelsea’s staggering 4-1 defeat to Brighton and their myriad of injury problems. There can be no resting on the laurels for Arsenal, they need a win and a Chelsea scalp to go with it.
1.) Aaron Ramsdale
4.) Benjamin White (Tomiyasu 73’ (Cédric 88’))
16.) Rob Holding
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 63’)
23.) Albert Sambi Lokonga
21.) Fábio Vieira (Ødegaard 73’)
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Eddie Nketiah
9.) Gabriel Jesus (c) (Saka 63’)
31.) Karl Jakob Hein
56.) James Hillson
12.) William Saliba
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu
17.) Cédric Soares
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko
72.) Matt Smith
5.) Thomas Partey
8.) Martin Ødegaard
7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
FC Zürich team:
25.) Yanick Brecher (c)
2.) Lindrit Kamberi
24.) Nikola Katić
6.) Fidan Aliti (Santini 89’)
19.) Nikola Boranijašević
8.) Ole Selnæs (Hornschuh 77’)
17.) Cheick Condé (Krasniqi 82’)
3.) Adrià Guerrero
11.) Jonathan Okita
23.) Fabian Rohner (Marchesano 45’)
15.) Tosin Aiyegun (Vyunnyk 78’)
FC Zürich subs:
1.) Živko Kostadinović
16.) Alan Omerovic
16.) Marc Hornschuh
35.) Ilan Sauter
4.) Bećir Omeragić
28.) Karol Mets
10.) Antonio Marchesano
7.) Bledian Krasniqi
32.) Selmin Hodza
9.) Ivan Santini
20.) Bohdan Vyunnyk