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20/21 Europa League First Team Match Reports Uncategorized

Slavia Prague 0-4 Arsenal: Europa League – 15/04/2021

Given the nightmare of their first-leg performance against Slavia Prague, Arsenal entered their second-leg tie with a feeling of foreboding. Thursday night was a must-win game and anything other than a win (or a high-scoring draw) would result in elimination.

This was a particularly daunting task as Slavia Prague had not lost at home since 2019 and have been one of the toughest nuts to crack for most of the teams they’ve played.

This, however, did not seem to unsettle Arsenal as much as one would have thought it would. Arsenal’s mentality in recent months has been under harsh criticism as the team has slumped to defeat to draw to another loss without a second’s thought.

Thursday night, therefore, provided something of a rest-bite from the usual mentality, as Arsenal came flying out of the gate.

Fresh off the back of their 0-3 demolition of Sheffield United, Arsenal attacked with the same gusto that had served them so well on Sunday. Emile Smith Rowe actually had the ball in the back of the net before a lengthy VAR check deemed the goal to be offside.

This did not deter Arsenal though. The team seemed to take the decision as a great personal insult and began to attack Slavia with everything they had.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to get the game where they wanted it. A mazy run through the defence from Emile Smith Rowe allowed him to play in Nicolas Pépé, who dinked a cute finish over the goalkeeper to grab his second goal of the tie and give Arsenal a deserved lead.

Nicolas Pépé gives Arsenal a deserved lead.

But Arsenal weren’t resting on their laurels, as Smith Rowe picked out Saka in the penalty area, only for the England youngster to be brought down in the box by Jakub Hromada for a penalty, which was promptly dispatched by captain Alexandre Lacazette.

Arsenal looked dangerous with every single attack and whatever hopes Slavia Prague had of saving the tie were quickly extinguished as Arsenal added a third right before half-time, with an excellent run from Saka, who shifted the ball onto his favoured left-foot and smashed it in the bottom corner to put the game beyond doubt.

Much like against Sheffield United, Arsenal hadn’t really wanted half-time to come! The second-half was a bit of a staler affair for both sides. Slavia failed to really put a dent on Arsenal and Arsenal were happy to sit back and enjoy their 0-3 advantage.

However, it didn’t mean that Arsenal wouldn’t attempt to attack where possible, soon enough, Granit Xhaka’s excellent through-ball found Nicolas Pépé, who squared the ball to Lacazette, who had all the time in the world to shift the ball past two defenders and smash the ball into the net with his weaker foot to well and truly kill the game off.

The final-whistle was certainly a welcome affair for Slavia, but for Arsenal, it signified a job well done.

It was a fantastic team performance, but there were a number of individual standouts, not least from Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, the latter of which was unlucky not to find himself with a goal to his name.

The two Hale End graduates were at the heart of everything that was great about Arsenal and their attack. Slavia simply couldn’t handle the blistering pace of the counter attack or their quick feet! Smith Rowe and Saka seem to have developed something of a shorthand in their play, as was also evidenced when Arsenal beat West Brom 0-4. The duo were simply unstoppable and Saka seems to be asking questions of England manager Gareth Southgate as to whether or not he will be on the plane for the EUROs in the summer.

Arsenal celebrate.

It was another brilliant performance from Pablo Marí as well. While Granit Xhaka’s composed performance at left-back, Calum Chambers’ strong performance on the right flank and Rob Holding’s aggressive tackles will likely recieve the plaudits, Marí’s performance was one that will fly under the radar.

Holding seems to thrive on a good-cop-bad-cop dynamic, something that worked excellently when he snuffed out Diego Costa in the 2017 FA Cup final and he seemed to thrive off it with Marí too. Marí was cool, calm and composed and played out from the back with total ease and was happy to clear up his teammate’s messes (not that there were too many of those).

And last, but by no means least, Alexandre Lacazette. It ever there was a captain’s performance from an Arsenal player, it was this one. It was the sort of performance that typified all that is great and all there is to love about Lacazette. The Frenchman was at the heart of the attacking moves Arsenal strung together. He was strong in the tackle and his dogged determinedness to win the ball at all costs was essential to the victory and a nice fix for him after a disastrous first-leg performance. Lacazette’s stance of taking the knee in the face of racism, staring down the opposition without a flicker of fear in his eyes is worth more than a 100 goals.

Next up for Arsenal is Fulham, then Everton and then it’s a trip to the Estadio de la Cerámica, for a match-up against former manager Unai Emery, who will almost certainly be out to prove a point as he looks to win yet another Europa League.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Cédric Soares 79’)
  8.) Dani Ceballos
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Martinelli 79’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Smith Rowe 67’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Balogun 88’)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Nketiah 79’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
45.) James Hillson
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
38.) Folarian Balogun

Slavia Prague team:
  1.) Ondřej Kolář
  5.) Alexander Bah (Višinský 45′)
  3.) Tomáš Holeš
  6.) David Zima
18.) Jan Bořil (c) (Dorley 45′)
  7.) Nicolae Stanciu (Lingr 45′)
25.) Jakub Hromada (Masopust 45′)
17.) Lukáš Provod
23.) Petr Ševčík
16.) Jan Kutcha (Tecl 71′)
  9.) Peter Olayinka

Slavia Prague subs:
13.) Jan Stejskal
31.) Přemsyl Kovář
32.) Ondrej Lingr
27.) Ibrahim Traoré
19.) Oscar Dorley
41.) Denis Višinský
28.) Lukáš Masopust
12.) Abdallah Sima
11.) Stanislav Tecl

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 1-1 Slavia Prague: Europa League – 08/04/2021

Arsenal’s journey in the 2020/21 season has been a fraught and tough ordeal, complete with ups and downs along the way, but the one place that fans have been able to find solace is in the team’s European run. 

Though the team narrowly lost at home to Olympiacos in the Round of 16, Arsenal have come through the competition fairly unscathed and with the quarter-final draw meaning they avoided a visit from their old adversary Manchester United or from former boss Unai Emery, it seems Arsenal got off lightly with their draw with Slavia Prague.

Arsenal started off as well as they could in the match with a few chances created here and there, but it was an ultimately drab and dreary first-half, culminating in the game’s first anti-climax as Bukayo Saka drove his easier-to-score effort past the far post. Though the linesman had raised his flag, VAR would have no-doubt overruled the decision in Saka’s favour had been able to convert the chance.

As half-time came and passed, Arsenal seemed to improve a fair bit. Slavia were, as their manager Jindřich Trpišovský said at full-time, not playing well. They created a fair few opportunities and tested Bernd Leno once or twice, but it was ultimately the home side to home the lion share of chances fell to.

Perhaps the most clearcut chance fell to Alexandre Lacazette. The Frenchman expertly deposed the defender on the halfway line leaving him the entire half with which to sprint into, bearing down on goal, the former-Lyon man took aim and scoop his shot over the onrushing keeper only for it to…hit the bar.

A frustrating night for Arsenal.

Had their been fans in the stadium they would have no doubt have already started celebrating, but to see the effort rattle off the crossbar was the sort of denial that Michael Haneke would have been proud of.

Eventually, the deadlock was broken. The introduction of Gabriel Martinelli, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pépé provided Arsenal with some much needed firepower and soon Pépé found himself through on goal from Aubameyang’s through ball, only for the Ivorian to dink the ball just over the grounded goalkeeper and into the far corner to give Arsenal the lead. 

It was a well-deserved goal; Arsenal had been much the better side and had totally run the game up to that point and were perhaps unlucky not to have a second or third either side of it. 

But as Arsenal fans know, most Arsenal games do not have easy endings or indeed happy ones and this was very much the latter. A poorly defended corner saw Tomáš Holeš head in the equaliser at the far-post to give his side the all-important away goal and break Arsenal hearts just as the final-whistle blew out.

It was a heartbreaking, albeit entirely predictable outcome for Mikel Arteta’s mentally weak Arsenal side. The lack of composure, the total indifference to the acceptable norms of defending, the total preventability of the goal itself summed up Arsenal this season.

Heartbreak in the dying embers of the match.

The goal had come about because makeshift left-back Cédric Soares, presumably at Arteta’s insistence, decided to play the ball back rather than launch the ball forward, which sold Gabriel Magalhães short and the rest was history.

Arteta’s insistence on playing out from the back when it clearly doesn’t suit the team is both amusing and infuriating and has cost Arsenal many times this season. It’s plain to see that Arsenal are simply not up to playing the tactic Arteta wishes to play and that the team needs some vital changes.

The lateness of the substations in the game did little to aid Arteta’s dwindling stock with the fanbase. Lacazette, Saka and Emile Smith Rowe looked to be struggling as did Thomas Partey, yet Arteta seemed uninterested in looking at the bench to changes the game. 

The decision to not select captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was another baffling decision. Though the tactic had worked well in the 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur, it was perhaps a shade too far in a do-or-die Europa League tie.

Arsenal now have it all to do in Prague before a strip to Sheffield United, but a serious shift in mentality is needed if Arsenal want to be in Europe next season.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (c)
16.) Rob Holding
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey (Elneny 78′)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 78′)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Ceballos 88′)
12.) Willian (Martinelli 73′)
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (Aubameyang 78′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
22.) Pablo Marí
49.) Joel López
25.) Mohamed Elneny
66.) Miguel Azeez
  8.) Dani Ceballos
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Slavia Prague team:
  1.) Ondřej Kolář
  5.) Alexander Bah
  3.) Tomáš Holeš
  6.) David Zima
18.) Jan Bořil (c)
  7.) Nicolae Stanciu (Masopust 84′)
25.) Jakub Hromada (Ševčík 45′)
17.) Lukáš Provod
19.) Oscar Dorley (Lingr 69′)
12.) Abdallah Sima (Kutcha 69′)
  9.) Peter Olayinka (Traoré 85′)

Slavia Prague subs:
13.) Jan Stejskal
31.) Přemsyl Kovář
23.) Petr Ševčík
32.) Ondrej Lingr
27.) Ibrahim Traoré
41.) Denis Višinský
28.) Lukáš Masopust
16.) Jan Kutcha
11.) Stanislav Tecl

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 0-1 Olympiacos: Europa League – 18/03/2021

It seems as though neither Olympiacos or Arsenal ever really seem to have the home advantage over the other one.

Following on from their emphatic 1-3 win last Thursday and a fantastic 2-1 win in the North London Derby, Arsenal entered their second-leg tie with Olympiacos in the driver’s seat and full of confidence.

Following captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s benching against Tottenham, the Gabon striker was recalled to the starting XI along with Mohamed Elneny, Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pépé.

Arsenal started well, controlling the game and dictating possession, but try as they might, they just didn’t seem capable of scoring.

The Gunners’ first chance came in the form of Nicolas Pépé, who skipped around José Sá and rather than squaring the ball to the completley unmarked Aubameyang, Pépé instead went for goal and his deflected effort rolled out disappointingly for a corner.

Héctor Bellerín controls the ball.

Another chance went begging not long after when Aubameyang, fed by Dani Ceballos, managed to squeeze past former Gunner Sokratis Papastathopoulos, only to blaze his effort over from six-yards.

Half-time came and went and Arsenal seemed to take their foot off the proverbial gas. Dani Ceballos ran himself into a blind alley and was soon dispossessed, this left Giorgos Masouras to run unencumbered through midfield and feed Youssef El-Arabi, who is so often the thorn in the side of the Arsenal team whenever the two sides meet and the Moroccan took aim in the penalty area and his effort smashed off Gabriel Magalhães into the back of the net.

It was a poor bot of defending from Arsenal. Both Elneny and Ceballos had committed themselves unnecessarily forward and left Granit Xhaka totally exposed with no help around him. The deflection may have been lucky but Arsenal’s defending seemed to deserve it.

Another chance went begging for Arsenal in the second-half when Aubameyang had the entire pitch to himself, running forward with no defender capable of catching him, Aubameyang used his trademark dink over the goalkeeper, only for it too drift far wide. It was a disappointing effort from a striker capable of so much more.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang enjoyed a torrid time in front of goal last night.

The final-whistle blew on a very tepid Arsenal performance. Though Arsenal are safely through to the next round of the Europa League, it was nevertheless an unacceptable performance.

There were bright sparks however. Gabriel Martinelli was finally given the chance to shine and the Brazilian seemed to take it. Though he failed to score, his energy was infectious and seemed to elevate the players around him. He also laid off another chance for Aubameyang who squandered it.

For Aubameyang, Arsenal fans will hope that their captain was merely struggling from routine rustiness following his stint on the bench on Sunday, however, that doesn’t make it easier to watch him squander a hat-trick of chances.

Arsenal are into the Quarter-Finals now, and are perhaps spared their blushes by Tottenham’s humiliating exit, but they will need to perform at a much higher standard than they did last night if they want to go all the way and win the competition.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (Chambers 82′)
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Partey 57′)
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Ødegaard 57′)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 81′)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
53.) Arthur Okonkwo
16.) Rob Holding
21.) Calum Chambera
22.) Pablo Marí
17.) Cédric Soares
18.) Thomas Partey
11.) Martin Ødegaard
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Olympiacos team:
  1.) José Sá
24.) Ousseynou Ba 🔴
15.) Sokratis Papastathopoulos
25.) José Holebas
14.) Thanasis Androutsos (Randjelović 62′)
  6.) Yann M’Vila
  4.) Mady Camara
45.) Oleg Reabciuk (Lala 84′)
19.) Giorgos Masouras (Bruma 63′)
11.) Youssef El-Arabi
  7.) Kostas Fortounis (c) (Bouchalakis 84′)

Olympiacos subs:
88.) Konstantinos Tzolakis
44.) Ilias Karargyris
21.) Mohamed Dräger
  5.) Andreas Bouchalakis
17.) Marios Vrousai
97.) Lazar Randjelović
90.) Vasilis Sourlis
27.) Bruma
72.) Kenny Lala

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Olympiacos 1-3 Arsenal: Europa League – 11/03/2022

Death, taxes and Arsenal drawing one of Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Olympiacos in a European competition. Last season was the same and proved to be the catalyst for the closure of English football after Mikel Arteta’s brush with the Olympiacos backroom staff result in the Spaniard testing positive for COVID-19 and English football being suspended.

Playing away in Greece ahead of a crunch North London Derby match with José Mourinho’s Tottenham Hotspur may not be ideal, but as Mikel Arteta said in his press conference, Arsenal needed to play the hand they were dealt.

In fact, Olympiacos’ Karaiskakis Stadium seems to have become a European home away from home after Arsenal played both the first leg and second leg of their European Round of 32 tie with Benfica owing to COVID restrictions for the return legs.

Arsenal started off their Round of 16 tie well, creating plenty of chances early on, with Martin Ødegaard sliding his early chance wide. It was a guilt-edged chance that the Norwegian will feel he should have converted.

Martin Ødegaard opens his Arsenal account in stunning fashion.

The pressure continued from there, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s header cannoning off the crossbar a few minutes later.

However, it took until the 34th minute for Arsenal to break the deadlock. A high press from Bukayo Saka and Héctor Bellerín forced Olympiacos into a sloppy error, which allowed Thomas Partey to give the ball to Ødegaard, who took aim and fired an absolute screamer into the back of the net from a good thirty-five yards. Questions will be asked of the goalkeeper and his positioning, but take nothing away from Ødegaard’s effort, which flew into the back of the net.

As with pretty much every game so far this season, none more so than lat Saturday’s draw with Burnley, Arsenal’s biggest threat is Arsenal. The team’s insistence on playing out from the back was highlighted once again as Bernd Leno fed the ball into Dani Ceballos’ feet who failed to trap the ball properly and Youssef El-Arabi was released and the striker fired Olympiacos level with a well-placed shot.

Despite this most recent of self-inflicted setbacks, Arsenal showed a lot of resilience and soon found themselves back in the lead again as Willian’s whipped ball into the box found the head of Gabriel Magalhães who’s cannon ball of a header looped into the back of the net.

But Arsenal weren’t done there, soon enough Mohamed Elneny found himself free as a bird in the centre of midfield and the Egyptian fired off an absolute rocket which flew past goalkeeper José Sá and gave Arsenal a comfortable lead and three away goals.

Mohamed Elneny caps off another impressive Arsenal victory.

It was a fairly impressive performance from Arsenal, not least because of the quality of the three goals scored, but also for the amount of chances Arsenal managed to create.

Martin Ødegaard will be happy with the fact that he has opened his Arsenal account, but the main source of creativity on the night seemed to have come from a somewhat revamped Willian. The Brazilian’s wing-play with Kieran Tierney produced some of the game’s most incisive attacks and it was no surprise that he was the one who laid the assist off for Gabriel Magalhães’ header.

Another key performance was the performance Gabriel Magalhães. His goal will be what sweeps the headlines, but his game overall was second-to-none and seemed to be a resurgence of his earlier season form, where he was a rock at the back for Arsenal.

Arsenal can go into their second leg with more of a happier heart than many would have thought likely, but for now, their focuses turns to Tottenham.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz
   6.) Gabriel Magalhães
   3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhala
18.) Thomas Partey (Ceballos 55′)
12.) Willian (Elneny 82′)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Smith Rowe 82′)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Pépé 82′)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 88′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Olympiacos team:
  1.) José Sá
72.) Kenny Lala
15.) Sokratis Papastathopoulos
  6.) Yann M’Vila
45.) Oleg Reabciuk (Holebas 45′)
27.) Bruma
  5.) Andreas Bouchalakis (c)
  4.) Mady Camara
19.) Giorgos Masouras (Androutsosat 86′)
28.) Mathieu Valbuena (Fortounis 45′)
11.) Youssef El-Arabi (Hassan 77′)

Olympiacos subs:
88.) Konstantinos Tzolakis
44.) Ilias Karargyris
21.) Mohamed Dräger
25.) José Holebas
  7.) Kostas Fourtounis
90.) Vasilis Sourlis
14.) Thanasis Androuts
97.) Lazar Randjelović
  9.) Ahmed Hassan

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 3-2 Benfica (Agg: 4-3): Europa League – 25/02/2021

With their current run of Premier League games looking to be a daunting and worrying run, it seems as though Arsenal may be resigned to putting all of their eggs into the Europa League basket.

While last season proved to be a disappointment following the team’s humiliating 1-2 defeat at home to Olympiacos, Mikel Arteta would be hoping for a better un in the competition this season.

Following Rob Holding’s concussion in the defeat to Manchester City, the England defender was unable to make the trip to Athens for the second-leg of Arsenal’s crucial Round of 32 tie against Benfica. So Mikel Arteta made one or two changes, Holding, Pablo Marí, Mohamed Elneny and Nicolas Pépé were all dropped for David Luiz, Gabriel Magalhães, Dani Ceballos and Emile Smith Rowe respectively.

Arsenal entered the match knowing that a scoreless draw would be more than enough to secure them safe passage into the Round of 16, but any Arsenal fan knew that it would be a fool’s errand not to try and score at least one if the North London club were serious about making it through to the next round of the competition.

Arsenal started brightly, with plenty of possession and a lot of chances being created, none more so than by Martin Ødegaard, who drifted through the defensive line easily and was able to pick out a number of sumptuous passes for his teammates.

Despite the Norwegian’s exquisite passing and dribbling, it was Bukayo Saka who found the creative breakthrough from out of nowhere. The talented teen made his way through the middle of the park and then played a delightful, Mesut Özil-esque pass into the path of captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who placed the ball into the far corner of the net with a trademark Aubameyang chip.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gives Arsenal the lead on the night.

It was a glorious start and was surely a sign of more to come. How wrong that proved to be.

Struggling to contain one of Benfica’s rare attacks, Dani Ceballos inadvertently gave away a free-kick in an area just promising enough to cause Arsenal some real issues and, sure enough, up stepped Diogo Gonçalves, who fired an absolute screamer of a free-kick into the back of the net to draw the visitors level.

Half-time beckoned in an Arsenal side that seemed stunned by the setback. How could this be? They had been in total control for near enough 45 minutes and Benfica had barely even troubled them and yet, much like the week before, Arsenal found themselves inexplicably on level terms.

The second-half proved to be even more head-scratchingly strange. Arsenal found themselves ahead for five glorious seconds as Ødegaard’s sumptuous ball through found Aubameyang who rattled the back of the net in the same way he had in the first-half with a delicious chip over the grounded goalkeeper, but VAR deemed that Aubameyang had strayed offside.

A corner from Ødegaard was confidently caught by Alexio Leite, who hit a clearance as straight as an arrow down the middle of the pitch which fell fairly easily towards Dani Ceballos who attempted to head the ball behind him to Bernd Leno, only for the midfielder to sell his companion short as the ball trickled into the path of Rafa Silva who bore down on goal, rounded a frustrated Bernd Leno and outstripped the advances of Héctor Bellerín and Kieran Tierney and fired home into an empty net from close range for Arsenal to find themselves a goal down.

In fairness, it didn’t take long for Arsenal to reply, a good run from substitute Willian saw him able to cut back for left-back Kieran Tierney, who steadied himself, took aim and fired an arrow straight into the bottom far corner to get Arsenal back on level terms on the night, although still trialing by the away goals rule.

Arsenal began to dig deep to find a goal, but try as they might, they seemed unable to really test Benfica further until Bukayo Saka’s tricky feet in the box gave him room to aim and he delivered a dream of a cross to the back post for an onrushing Aubameyang to head home from close-range and give Arsenal a well-deserved lead in dramatic fashion.

Leading the pack: Kieran Tierney rallies the troops after his equaliser.

Even the subsequent VAR check could do little to tarnish the scenes of jubilation from the players and that feeling was only extended when the final whistle blew a few minutes later.

It was a close run thing, Arsenal qualified by the skin of their teeth and it seemed as though Arsenal’s biggest issues once again were their own.

Héctor Bellerín had spoken in the wake of the defeat to Manchester City about how no team is beating Arsenal, but rather that Arsenal are beating themselves, something that seemed to be echoed in the performance on Thursday night.

Benfica never really looked to be at the races, but three individual errors over the course of the two legs gifted them three goals, with Arsenal needing their usual big hitters to bail them out.

It was an outstanding performance however from young Bukayo Saka. The youngster broke into the team last season and now looks to have usurped Aubameyang and Leno as the first name on the teamsheet. The youngster was everywhere and Benfica seemed unable to get the ball from him, it was as though the ball was velcroed to his feet and his two assists seemed to echo the abilities of the now departed Mesut Özil at his very best.

Another strong performance from Kieran Tierney will have certainly helped as well. The Scottish left-back has endured hell with his injury woes at Arsenal, however, his commitment and abilities can never be questioned, even if his appearance stats can. His goal last night had an air of “I’ll do it myself then” about it and the finish was as emphatic as his celebration afterwards.

Arsenal must now focus on the Premier League, with a trip to the King Power Stadium next up.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (Lacazette 78’)
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  3.) Kieran Tierney
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Partey 63’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Willian 63’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Elneny 90’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Chambers 90’)
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
18.) Thomas Partey
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Benfica team:
77.) Alexio Leite
  4.) Lucas Veríssimo
30.) Nicolas Otamendi
  5.) Jan Vertonghen
17.) Diogo Gonçalves
21.) Pizzi (c) (Everton 58’)
28.) Julian Weigl (Waldschmidt 90’)
49.) Adel Taarabt (Appelt Pires 58’)
  3.) Álex Grimaldo (Tavares 85’)
27.) Ferreira Silva
14.) Haris Seferović (Núñez 57’)

Benfica subs:
  1.) Mile Svilar
99.) Odyesseas Vlachodimos
  2.) Gilberto
71.) Nuno Tavares
  8.) Appelt Pires
11.) Cervi
19.) Chiquinho
27.) Ferreira Silva
38.) Pedrinho
  7.) Everton Soares
88.) Gonçalo Ramos
  9.) Darwin Núñez

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Benfica 1-1 Arsenal: Europa League – 18/02/2021

While Arsenal’s Premier League form has been something of a rollercoaster ride for all involved, their Europa League form has been a showing of potential favourites.

Finishing top of their group with maximum points, twenty goals scored and only five conceded, has given Arsenal fans hope that this season could indeed be their year.

Starting with the same eleven that romped to a 4-2 victory over Leeds United on Sunday, Mikel Arteta sent a clear message that Arsenal consider this competition among their top priorities.

If that attitude was hinted at with his selection, it was reflected too in the performance of the team.

Arsenal started well, creating chances and keeping Benfica at bay. Benfica struggled to contain the midfield, which allowed Arsenal to push forward more often. Following his side’s defeat on Sunday, Marcelo Bielsa simply stated that his team failed to keep Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos quiet, something Benfica failed to do as well.

Xhaka was not the main man that Benfica needed to worry about, it was Ceballos, who was carving open the Portuguese side with indifferent ease, his passes reaching Héctor Bellerín and Bukayo Saka far too easily and it was from these positions that Arsenal were at their most dangerous.

Arsenal were carving open Benfica with relative ease and it seemed certain that they would take a well-deserved lead, when Bellerín laid a beautiful cross along the floor of the six-yard area to fall to the feet of the in-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, fresh off his first-ever Premier League hat-trick, only for the talismanic striker to miss. It seemed a cert that he would score and it also seemed easier to score it than miss it.

Despite Benfica’s penalty, David Luiz & Gabriel Magalhães looked solid on the night.

Arsenal had plenty of other chances, but the main issue seemed to rise from the forward line’s seeming inability to remain onside. Bukayo Saka, Aubameyang and Emile Smith Rowe were the guilty parties more often than most and while seemed a little bit harsh, it killed a lot of the momentum going forward against a somewhat hapless Benfica defence.

It was remarkable that Arsenal reached half-time at 0-0 and it seemed as though Benfica had been hoping for such an event, as they implemented the attacking part of their gameplan in the second-half. Though Benfica rarely troubled Arsenal beyond a decent save from Bernd Leno, they inadvertently found themselves on the receiving end of a very harsh penalty decision.

Emile Smith Rowe’s handball in the box was verified by VAR, but the decision seemed to penalise Smith Rowe for something he had little-to-no control over. A stray ricochet from his chest onto his arm meant that Benfica were given the chance to take the lead, which they dutifully did as Pizzi’s effort creeped past Leno to give Benfica an early advantage.

It didn’t take long for Arsenal to respond however. Though not a terrific sign that Arsenal only really clicked into gear in the final-third when they had conceded, it was a very well worked goal.

A brilliant pass from the excellent Martin Ødegaard found Cédric Soares unmarked in the box, who squared it for Saka, who promptly finished to give Arsenal an equaliser and an all-important away goal.

From there, Arsenal had one or two other chances, but otherwise failed to create much more and it was with a dissapointing air that the final whistle sounded.

Bukayo Saka celebrates his equaliser with captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

Despite conceding a penalty, it was a sound defensive performance from Arsenal, especially from Brazilian duo David Luiz and Gabriel Magalhães, who managed to keep most of Benfica’s main attempts at bay fairly easily. Their long balls over the top were often the main source of creativity in the team for a while, allowing Smith Rowe and Saka to build up on the flanks, while Ødegaard and Aubameyang crowded the box.

The performance of Martin Ødegaard will surely turn some heads too. The Norwegian youngster was unlucky not to impact the game more, as Arsenal seemed to usurp him whenever they were going forward, not least in the form of Bellerín, who seemed unwilling to pass to the midfielder, despite the acres of space for him to run into and the excellent runs he had made.

Nevertheless, when he was on the ball, he looked every bit the exciting creative talisman that Arsenal have so craved. His passes were deftly woven, perfectly weighted and easy for the attacker to take in their stride and he seemed totally at ease when dribbling at Benfica’s rather error-prone defence. Though it will likely be said until everyone is sick of it, there was a touch of Mesut Özil about Ødegaard and the comparisons between the two are far beyond the fact that they share the same initials and both came to Arsenal from a Real Madrid side that considered them surplus to requirements.

A lack of sharpness in the final-third (not least from Aubameyang), is all that stood between Arsenal and a potential thrashing, but an away goal is certainly an important take-home as Arsenal leave their COVID-enforced away leg in Rome, to take on Manchester City on Sunday, followed by the return leg in Athens; Mikel Arteta will be hoping for a more exciting attacking display from his side in both matches.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares (Tierney 64’)
34.) Granit Xhaka
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Elneny 90’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Martinelli 77’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Willian 90’)
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Pépé 77’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
21.) Calum Chambers
  3.) Kieran Tierney
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
19.) Nicolas Pépé
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Benfica team:
77.) Alexio Leite
  4.) Lucas Veríssimo (Chiquinho 85’)
30.) Nicolas Otamendi
  5.) Jan Vertonghen
17.) Diogo Gonçalves
21.) Pizzi (c) (Everton Soares 64′)
28.) Julian Weigl
49.) Adel Taarabt (Pires 77′)
  3.) Álex Grimaldo
10.) Luca Waldschmidt (Silva 45’)
  9.) Darwin Núñez (Seferovic 64’)

Benfica subs:
  1.) Mile Svilar
99.) Odyesseas Vlachodimos
82.) Fonseca Ferriera
  2.) Gilberto
71.) Nuno Tavares
  8.) Appelt Pires
11.) Cervi
19.) Chiquinho
27.) Ferreira Silva
38.) Pedrinho
82.) Fonseca Ferriera
  7.) Everton Soares
14.) Haris Seferović

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Dundalk FC 2-4 Arsenal: Europa League – 10/12/2020

Thursday nights have become something of a long-waited reprieve for Arsenal fans at the moment. With the disappointing results that seem to be plaguing the team in the league, Thursday nights have offered Arsenal fans solace and the chance to be able to see the next crop of Arsenal youngsters strut their stuff.

Arsenal’s final Europa League group stage match against Dundalk was already a dead rubber. Both teams were already guaranteed their final positions int he group and neither would be too concerned about the result. It is this perhaps that prompted Mikel Arteta to name a totally revamped side for the match.

No fewer than eleven changes were made to the team with Calum Chambers and Emile Smith-Rowe starting their first matches of the season in tow.

The game started well for Arsenal and they soon forund themselves in front. Ainsley Maitland-Niles was perhaps a little too over-confident with his flicked through ball to Eddie Nketiah, but the England U21 record goalscorer found some fortune in the resultant clearance and was clean through on goal and produced a cute little finish over Goalkeeper Gary Rodgers, to give Arsenal the lead in Dundalk.

Eddie Nketiah gives Arsenal the lead.

Arsenal continued to dominate from there as well and after some quick work from Smith-Rowe, Mohamed Elneny picked the ball up and managed to fire home an absolutely stupendous effort from long-range to double Arsenal’s lead.

The half didn’t go entirely to plan for Arsenal though; Jordan Flores soon found himself loose in the penalty area after some good work from Dundalk and he rifled home an impressive response from the home side.

The second-half saw even more signs of prolonged Arsenal dominance and it came as no surprise when Joe Willock added Arsenal’s third. Good work from substitute Folarian Balogun, who held the ball up impressively in the penalty area, allowed Willock to take a touch and then fire the ball into the net, though Rodgers still managed to get a hand to it.

Arsenal showed no signs of letting up despite their two goal cushion and a beautiful through ball from Nicolas Pépé (who’s Premier League suspension lifts after Sunday’s forthcoming match against Burnley) into Balogun’s path allowed the youngster to finish into the far corner, a goal that Thierry Henry would have been proud.

Though Dundalk still managed to pull another back, an impressive header from Sean Hoare, it was only a consolation and Arsenal welcomed the final whistle as they finished with maximum points.

It’s fair to say that Arsenal have been more impressive in the Europa League than the Premier League. Though the Europa League does not boast the same level of quality that the Premier League does, nor does it contain too many monopolistic clubs taking advantage of their owner’s superior wealth, six wins and only five goals conceded (one goal for every four scored) is still impressive however you chalk it up.

Folarian Balogun celebrates his second Gunners goal.

Last night was a particularly good advert for Hale End as well with 75% of Arsenal’s goalscorers last night graduating from the academy. There were impressive debuts from Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azzeez and youngster Folarian Balogun, who is currently in the midst of prolonged contract negotiations with the club, grabbed yet another goal for the club as well.

The competition has also been a chance for players such as Cédric Soares, Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolašinac (the latter of which, was injured last night), who are usually on the fringes of the first-team, to recieve a regular run-out. Under usual circumstances, European competitions are played every two weeks, however, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the later starts in the various major leagues, both the Champions League and the Europa League have been played every week,w hich has also provided players with a sense of rhythm as well.

Arsenal’s attention will obviously now be turning to Burnley on Sunday as they search for their first win in the league since the beginning of November, but there will also be a watchful eye on the Round of 32 draw in the Europa League as well, with Arsenal avoiding RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Olympiacos, Ajax, Krasnodar, Manchester United, Club Brugge and Dynamo Kyiv because of their high group finish, however, the Gunners will still be hoping for an easier route into the Round of 16.

TeamPWDLGsGcGDPts
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Arsenal (Q) 🏆6600205+1518
🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)6312911-210
🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien62131113-27
🇮🇪 Dundalk FC6006819-110
How Group: B looks after matchday five.

Arsenal team:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
21.) Calum Chambers
20.) Shkodran Mustafi (c)
22.) Pablo Marí
17.) Cédric Soares
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
25.) Mohamed Elneny (Ceballos 62′)
28.) Joe Willock (Azeez 82′)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
32.) Emile Smith-Rowe (Cottrell 77′)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 62′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Matt Macey
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
66.) Miguel Azeez
  8.) Dani Ceballos
41.) Ben Cottrell
  7.) Bukayo Saka
38.) Folarian Balogun

Dundalk team:
  1.) Gary Rodgers
  4.) Sean Hoare
44.) Andy Boyle (Gartland 45′)
21.) Daniel Cleary
  2.) Seán Gannon (Mountney 54′)
  5.) Chris Shields (c)
  6.) Jordan Flores
15.) Darragh Leahy
11.) Patrick McEleney (Čolović 77′)
  7.) Michael Duffy (Wynne 77′)
29.) David McMillan (Kelly 54′)

Dundalk subs:
20.) Aaron McCarey
30.) Jimmy Corocran
  3.) Brian Gartland
  8.) John Mountney
10.) Gregory Sloggett
22.) Stefan Čolović
23.) Cameron Dummigan
24.) Jamie Wynne
27.) Daniel Kelly


Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 4-1 Rapid Wien: Europa League – 03/12/2020

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.

Alexandre Lacazette celebrates his stunning opening goal.

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.

Pablo Marí marks his return to the team in style with the team’s second goal.

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.

TeamPWDLGsGcGDPts
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Arsenal (Q) 🏆5500163+1315
🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)530279-29
🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien5203911-26
🇮🇪 Dundalk FC5005615-90
How Group: B looks after matchday five.

Arsenal team:
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’)

Arsenal subs:
  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
12.) Willian
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

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Molde FK 0-3 Arsenal: Europa League – 27/11/2020

Arsenal entered their clash with Molde FK safe in the knowledge that a draw or win would guarantee them qualification into the Round of 32 in the Europa League. It seemed as though Mikel Arteta was taking nothing for granted, as he fielded a strong team, and entrusting in the youngsters that had so far given Arsenal three wins out of three in the competition.

There was a return to the side for Alexandre Lacazette, who did not appear in Arsenal’s narrow 0-0 draw with Leeds at Elland Road on Sunday; Nicolas Pépé who had marked his return to the starting eleven in the Premier League in the aforementioned game on Sunday with a totally unnecessary red card, kept his place, given that he will be absent from Arsenal’s next three Premier League matches.

Arsenal started the game well, Molde gave no signs of an intention to simply sit back and allow the Arsenal team to attack as they had done last week, they were more open to attacking themselves, which left their defence open to Arsenal’s pacy attack.

Though Arsenal failed to put any of their chances away in the first half, it was an encouraging display that was coated in a sense of shyness in front of goal. Neither Eddie Nketiah or Alexandre Lacazette looked particularly open to the idea of firing an effort on goal and Reiss Nelson often found himself surrounded by players too often.

Alas, Nicolas Pépé seemed to be the only player that was capable of shooting on the Molde goal and several of his efforts were either high, wide and handsome or were blasted wide.

Nicolas Pépé celebrates his opening goal with his teammates.

In the second-half, Arsenal played as well as they had in the first, but with the added caveat of finding their shooting boots finally. Pépé let off an absoutle screamer of a shot, only to see his spectacular effort cannon off the crossbar, but he did not need to wait long for a reprieve. Barely two minutes later, Ainsley Maitland-Niles crossed the ball for Pépé, who brought it down and fired an effort into the same top corner that he had just been unfortunate to place his previous shot into to give the Gunners the lead.

From there, Arsenal meant business and though Molde bravely attempted to bring things back on level terms, the speed of the Arsenal attack was simply too much for them to handle and Joe Willock found himself in acres of space and placed a slide-rulle pass into the path of the onrushing Reiss Nelson who turned the ball in for the Gunners’ second, a goal made in Hale End.

In the 82nd minute, Eddie Nketiah was withdrawn by Folarian Balogun, who played in Arsenal’s Europa League tie against Dundalk. The American-born English international has found himself in the midst of contract negotiations in recent weeks as Arsenal look desperate to keep a hold of the youngster and it’s clear to see why. Despite barely being on the field for one full minute, Arsenal broke forward with substitute Kieran Tierney, who fed fellow substitute Emile Smith-Rowe (who recently returned from injury) whof ed Balogun, who was able to turn his defender and place his shot into the back of the net to wrap up a superb performance from Arsenal and assure them club that qualification into the Round of 32 was assured.

All in all, it was a very good performance from Arteta’s side. Though the quality of opposition that Arsenal have faced so far in the Europa League is perhaps not at the same standard in the Premier League, it was nevertheless a very strong response fromt he team’s dissapointing performance on Sunday.

It seemed to give Arsenal the chance to tinker about with their formation as well.

Though on paper, Arsenal’s formation looked distinctly like a 4-4-2, in reality, it played more like a 4-2-3-1. Mikel Arteta has seen Alexandre Lacazette drop deeper into the midfield of late, something the Frenchman has been doing for a while and has likely been what has prompted a lacklustre showing in front of goal, however, this time, it seemed to suit him.

Shkodran Mustafi and Cédric Soares celebrate with Folarian Balogun.

Lacazette was not deployed as an orthodox central forward or as a central attacking midfielder, allowing him license to shoot and also to drop deep when needed. Though Nketiah did not have his best game, it was clear to see why the plan worked so well, given Nketiah’s movement and quick pressing abilities.

The game was a rousing success for the Hale End academy too. Though Head of Academy Per Mertesacker will no doubt be aware that there is still work to be done with Arsenal’s talented crop of youngsters, he will take particular pleasure in seeing Arsenal’s youngsters blood-in the first team, with Miguel Azeez and Ben Cottrell also waiting in the wings, desperate for a chance.

But while Folarian Balogun’s contract saga rumbles on, the England forward did very little to dispell the faith that Mikel Arteta has shown in him. Though his goal may have had the hauntings of luck as the Molde goalkeeper Andreas Linde managed to get a hand to it, the striker will be glad that he has announced himself in the first-team in such good fashion.

For now, Arsenal will onlyf ocus on ensuring that they qualify as group winners, which they only require a point to do, but this is now a chance for Arsenal’s youngsters to be given a run out and for key players to be rested as the attention now turns to the visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday a must-win game for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal as they look to put their appalling Premier League form behind them.

TeamPWDLGsGcGDPts
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Arsenal (Q) 🏆4400122+1012
🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)420248-46
🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien420287+13
🇮🇪 Dundalk FC4004512-70
How Group: B looks after matchday four.

Arsenal teams:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúarsson
17.) Cédric Soares
23.) David Luiz (Holding 45′)
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles
34.) Granit Xhaka (Ceballos 62′)
28.) Joe Willock (Tierney 75′)
24.) Reiss Nelson
19.) Nicolas Pépé
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette (c) (Smith-Rowe 75′)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Balogun 82′)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Matt Macey
44.) Karl Jakob Hein
16.) Rob Holding
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
  3.) Kieran Tierney
66.) Miguel Azeez
41.) Ben Cottrell
  8.) Dani Ceballos
32.) Emile Smith-Rowe
38.) Folarian Balogun

Molde FK team:
  1.) Andreas Linde
20.) Henry Wingo
  5.) Sheriff Sinyan
  6.) Stian Rode Gregersen (Knudtzon 85′)
  3.) Birk Risa (Holmgren-Pedersen 82′)
17.) Fredrik Aursnes
16.) Etzaz Hussain (Bolly 61′)
19.) Erik Hestad
  7.) Magnus Wolff Eikrem (c) (Brynhildsen  81′)
11.) Martin Ellingsen
10.) Leke James (Omoijuanfo 61′)

Molde FK subs:
12.) Álex Cranix
26.) Mathias Eriksen Ranmark
27.) Marcus Holmgren-Pedersen
14.) Erling Knudtzon
15.) Tobias Christensen
22.) Ola Brynhildsen 
30.) Mathis Bolly
99.) Ohi Omoijuanfo

Categories
20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 4-1 Molde FK: Europa League – 05/11/2020

As Arsenal headed into matchday three, there was plenty to be cheerful about. The Gunners sat top of Group B with six points and had just come off the back of their first win at Old Trafford in fourteen years.

It, therefore, came as no surprise to see Arsenal in a boisterous mood heading into the match, with Mikel Arteta making nine changes from the side that beat Manchester United on Sunday evening, with Bernd Leno and Willian the only two players retaining their spots. Elsewhere, Granit Xhaka returned to the side as captain.

Molde had been in pretty red hot form in Group B coming into the match, with three goals scored and only one conceded. 

Arsenal started the game with a high-intensity as they had against Leicester City and Dundalk, but with the same issues that prevailed in those two matches, a lack of end product. 

Nicolas Pépé looked to be the main culprit of this, as he struggled to make his way down the right-hand side, with most if not all of his attempted take-ons being easily stopped by the Molde defence. Pépé’s moves seemed to work best when he attempted to play inside, often linking well with the once-again impressive Joe Willock.

Willian, Joe Willock and Dani Ceballos celebrate Arsenal’s equaliser.

But for all of Arsenal’s attacking intent, it was the away side that broke the deadlock. Leno’s hastily cleared kick was snapped up in midfield and Molde broke forward. Wolff Eikrem’s ball into Martin Ellingsen broke the defensive line and Leno’s positioning was exposed as Ellingsen curled a terrific effort into the far corner to give the away side the lead. 

It wasn’t the start that Mikel Arteta or Arsenal would have wanted, but Arsenal’s persistence showed good signs of healthy attacking intent. Switching Willian on to the right-hand side and Pépé on to the left, seemed to give Arsenal a renewed vigour and soon Pépé’s inch-perfect pass found it’s way to Eddie Nketiah whose subsequent goal was incorrectly ruled out for offside, perhaps an advert for why UEFA’s decision to remove VAR from the group-stages could be a costly one.

But it didn’t take long for Arsenal to regain their foothold in the game. Three minutes later, Arsenal broke forward with lightening-quick precision, Pépé feeding Willian who released the unlikely figure of Granit Xhaka, who laid it off beautifully for Nketiah who then fed Joe Willock, but before the England midfielder could get a touch, it had already been rolled in by Kristoffer Haugen and the home side drew level.

In the second half, it was pretty much one-way traffic. While Molde would be happy with a previous one point away to the best side in the group, Arsenal were not resting on their laurels and added a second to their tally in the 62nd minute.

Xhaka and Willock playing a lovely one-two on the edge of the box led to Willock crossing the ball and it being turned into the Molde net by substitute Sheriff Sinyan. 

From there, Arsenal attacked Molde with more intensity, especially with the introduction of youngster Bukayo Saka, who six minutes after entering the field of play, set up a lovely finish for Pépé for Arsenal’s third.

Eddie Nketiah feeds Bukayo Saka, in the move for Arsenal’s third.

Pépé’s presence on the field after scoring his goal was perhaps a little unexpected, especially given the importance of Arsenal’s match against Aston Villa on Sunday in a notoriously busy and injury-filled festive period, but the Ivorian made use of his time on the field with a well-executed pass into the path of Willock who rounded off the Gunners’ evening in style. 

It was a good evening’s work for Arteta and his men, but the team’s rather startling lack of end-product is a worry. Though Arsenal don’t need to be too vexed as they were playing a number of players who likely won’t be playing in the weekend’s run of fixtures, it does seem to be something of a worrying theme in all competitions.

Against Leicester City, Arsenal had looked decidedly average in front of goal, despite boasting the attacking threat of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and Dani Ceballos and they had looked much the same against Molde.

Though Arsenal seemed to sort the issue out in the second-half, their luck against Molde’s low-block had been manly down to Molde being forced to remove Stian Rode Gregersen, their best defender, which allowed Arsenal more penetrative attacks. 

Many will point to the two own goals scored as an example of how flat-footed Arsenal’s attack had looked, but Arsenal would have likely scored from these attempted regardless as the goals came about mainly through Molde’s intent on tight man-marking.

It was yet another disappointing evening for Nicolas Pépé. Though many will point out that a goal and an assist is unlikely to constitute a bad game, it was still one of the Ivory Coast international’s worst matches in an Arsenal shirt so far. Pépé struggled against the Molde backline and struggled to really offer much by way of a general threat although Arteta’s decision to trade flanks with Willian did prove to be a good choice.

Though Pépé is not responsible for the £72m fee that Unai Emery and Raül Sanllehí decided to spend on the winger, it is fair to say that he has not entirely lived up to the promise that he showed at Lille and has struggled to adapt to Mikel Arteta’s gameplan. 

A convincing victory in the end for Arsenal as they pull clear from the pack at the top of Group B, as the attention now turns to Aston Villa on Sunday evening. 

TeamPWDLGsGcGDPts
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 Arsenal (Q)330092+79
🇳🇴 Molde FK (Q)320145-16
🇦🇹 SK Rapid Wien310256-13
🇮🇪 Dundalk FC300349-50
How Group: B looks after matchday three.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
15.) Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Cédric Soares 63’)
23.) David Luiz
20.) Shkodran Mustafi
31.) Sead Kolašinac
34.) Granit Xhaka (c) (Tierney 80’)
  8.) Dani Ceballos (Elneny 80’)
28.) Joe Willock
12.) Willian (Saka 64’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Arsenal subs:
13.) Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson
33.) Matt Macey
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
  3.) Kieran Tierney
18.) Thomas Partey
25.) Mohamed Elneny
  7.) Bukayo Saka
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette

Molde FK Team:
  1.) Andreas Linde
20.) Henry Wingo
  2.) Martin Bjørnbak 
  6.) Stian Rode Gregersen (Sinyan 45’)
28.) Kristoffer Haugen
17.) Fredrik Aursnes
16.) Etzaz Hussain
11.) Martin Ellingsen (Moström 86’)
  7.) Magnus Wolff Eikrem (c) (Brynhildsen 74′)
30.) Mathis Bolly (Knudtzon 63’)
99.) Ohi Omoijuanfo (James 74’)

Molde FK Subs:
12.) Álex Craninx
26.) Mathias Eriksen Ranmark
  3.) Birk Risa
  5.) Sheriff Sinyan
27.) Marcus Holmgren Pedersen
10.) Leke James
15.) Tobias Christensen
14.) Erling Knudtzon
22.) Ola Brynhildsen
  9.) Mattias Moström