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20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Arsenal 0-0 Villarreal (1-2 agg): Europa League – 06/05/2021

The last chance Arsenal had of achieving European football next season has evaporated after the team slumped to a 0-0 home draw to Unai Emery’s Villarreal.

It was a disappointing tie for Arsenal, who seemed to treat the first-half of football as an exercise in fear. Too scared to get forward and work the shaky Gerónimo Rulli, Arsenal seemed to be offering a sense of what playing the new Resident Evil Village will be like, rather than what a game of football should be like.

In fairness, Arsenal came close on a few occasions, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang hitting the post twice and Emile Smith Rowe’s cute little chip just glancing past the post in the second-half.

Emile Smith Rowe and Eddie Nketiah commiserate Arsenal’s appalling performance.

Other than that, Arsenal were utterly bereft of ideas. At a time when the team needed their best players to show up, they seemed to recoil. Héctor Bellerín was once again average at best and terrible at worst, Thomas Partey seemed to be on a different planet, Martin Ødegaard seemed totally uninterested and Alexandre Lacazette was completley isolated.

The game management of Mikel Arteta once again seemed to expose the manager’s total lack of game management experience. Bellerín was hooked off with four minutes to go rather than forty-five, Gabriel Martinelli wasn’t started from the get-go and was then brought on too late to have a meaningful impact and the hapless and totally useless Willian was thrown on for reasons probably best kept to himself.

It was a total masterclass in cluelessness. Mikel Arteta and co. have spoken at length about Arsenal needing to be daring in the transfer market this summer, but it begs the question of who would even want to join this mess of an Arsenal side?

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came close twice.

The team looks highly unlikely to qualify even for the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, they are likely to be hit with a pretty huge fine from UEFA for their part in the proposed European Super League, which will likely have a further impact on signings and available funds and it also begs the question of who on earth would want to buy these players?

Unless there are some serious changes in the team’s tactics moving forward, Arsenal look dead in the water and their match against Villarreal was just a microcosm of that.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
  2.) Héctor Bellerín (Nketiah 91’)
16.) Rob Holding
22.) Pablo Marí
  3.) Kieran Tierney (Willian 80’)
18.) Thomas Partey
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
  7.) Bukayo Saka
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Martinelli 66’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (c) (Lacazette 80’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
53.) Arthur Okonkwo
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
21.) Calum Chambers
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
  9.) Alexandre Lacazette
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Villarreal team:
13.) Gerónimo Rulli
2.) Mario Gaspar
  3.) Raúl Albiol (c)
  4.) Pau Torres
24.) Alfonso Pedraza (Moreno 91’)
11.) Samuel Chukwueze (Pino ’30 (Moi Gómez 91′))
19.) Francis Coquelin
  5.) Dani Parejo
14.) Manuel Trigueros
  7.) Gerard Moreno
17.) Paco Alcácer (Bacca 72′)

Villarreal subs:
  1.) Sergio Asenjo
21.) Jaume Costa
  6.) Ramiro Funes Mori
20.) Rubén Peña
15.) Pervis Estupiñán
18.) Alberto Moreno
30.) Yeremi Pino
32.) Álex Baena
23.) Moi Gómez
34.) Fer Niño
  9.) Carlos Bacca
12.) Dani Raba

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20/21 Europa League First Team General Match Reports

Villarreal 2-1 Arsenal: Europa League – 29/04/2021

The Europa League seems to represent the last possible chance for Arsenal to qualify for the Champions League next season, and barring some miraculous upturn in form in the league, any European competition at all.

The chance to see former manager Unai Emery in the dugout will likely have piqued most people’s interest, but the sideshow was to take a back seat as Arsenal looked to push forward.

In reality, Arsenal couldn’t have gotten off to a worse start if they had tried. The same lackadaisical defending that so often permeated in Emery’s days at the club were once again exposed.

Granit Xhaka, deputising at left-back, had been relatively untested in the position, but Villarreal began to attack with real gusto. Xhaka pointed to teammate Dani Ceballos to pick up Manuel Trigueros, who found himself free in the box, only for Ceballos to totally ignore the instruction and stare in horror as Trigueros fired a stunning effort into the bottom corner.

A nightmare start that could be easily rectified if Arsenal just kept their heads. But then again, this is Arsenal we’re talking about, a team that doesn’t “keep their heads” and roughly 24 minutes later, poor defending from a corner led to Villarreal doubling their advantage. No one picking up the back-post and the same shambolic defending that had been shown up earlier was again exposed as former Real Madrid defender Raúl Albiol turned in an unencumbered effort.

Arsenal apeal Dani Ceballos’ second booking.

Nicolas Pépé was brought down for a penalty, but VAR turned the decision over after a handball in the build-up.

Half-time could not come soon enough, with Villarreal looking like they were going to score with every single attack.

The second-half saw a drastic improvement in performance from Arsenal, who began to create more chances and began to keep the ball more. Anyone who saw Arsenal under Emery, knew that his Villarreal side were due the same fate.

But before Arsenal could do much more, their situation went from bad to worse as Dani Ceballos, already on a yellow card, was given a second (somewhat harsh) booking and was dismissed from the field of play. Though former Tottenham and Watford midfielder Étienne Capoue met the same fate later in the game, it was of small comfort, especially when Ceballos should have been withdrawn much earlier.

Bukayo Saka burst into the penalty area and was tripped by goalscorer Manuel Trigueros, to hand Arsenal a lifeline. VAR checked the decision and was upheld, and Pépé, Arsenal’s only bright spot on the night calmly dispatched his penalty. Arsenal fans who were dreading a reverse of the Juan Román Riquelme situation from 2006 were spared that particular indignity.

Arsenal had a chance to draw level in the dying embers of the match as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s shot was blocked by Gerónimo Rulli, though the Gabonese hitman had slipped as he shot, which likely didn’t help matters.

The final whistle would have been welcome for both managers, who will leave the Estadio de la Cerámica feeling their team should have done more.

The performance of Dani Ceballos once again sent Arsenal fans into a frenzy as the Spaniard once again cost Arsenal a European tie. His poor marking, terrible zonal play, inability to make basic passes and his subsequent yellow card pretty much made the minds of Mikel Arteta and Edu up that the Spaniard will not be back at Arsenal next season.

Nicolas Pépé’s penalty has given Arsenal a lifeline they don’t deserve.

His performance was arguably one of the worst, but the decision to keep him on was yet another baffling one. Arteta has met criticism in recent weeks for leaving his substitutions far too late and his game management was again under scrutiny here. Though Arteta told CBS reporter James Benge that he was “planning to take Dani off“, it was still bafflinf that such a poor performance in the first-half hadn’t brought about his removal earlier still.

Emery, for all his faults, knew when to change things and when the tactics weren’t working and was not averse to making halftime subs (as was also shown on Thursday night).

The performance falls squarely on Arteta. It felt, once again, that the Spaniard was too smart for his own good. Poor selection in the draw at home to Fulham, had very much been his downfall and Thursday was no different.

Seeming to take heart from Pep Guardiola’s constant “revolving false-nine” tactic, Arteta decided to start the game without a recognised forward, meaning that Emile Smith Rowe started through the middle, and Nicolas Pépé, the obvious choice, was shunted out wide.

Yet another baffling tactic was why Arteta refused to pick Gabriel Martinelli. Martin Ødegaard having just come back from injury seemed like a poor suit to Arsenal’s gameplan, who needed a far more frenetic press. Though the Norwegian is no stranger to a high press when needed, having only just come back rom injury, he seemed to be a risk not worth taking.

Arsenal have been granted an impossible lifeline in the tie now, but they will need to perform much better than this if they are to stand a chance of reaching the final and given the blistering form of Manchester United on Thursday night and the likelihood of them reaching the final, Arsenal will not hold up if indeed they reach there.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers
16.) Rob Holding (c)
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Party
  8.) Dani Ceballos 🔴
  7.) Bukayo Saka (Aubameyang 85’)
11.) Martin Ødegaard (Martinelli 63’)
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Willian 95’)
32.) Emile Smith Rowe (Elneny 95’)

Arsenal subs:
33.) Maty Ryan
53.) Arthut Okonkwo
23.) David Luiz
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães
  2.) Héctor Bellerín
17.) Cédric Soares
25.) Mohamed Elneny
12.) Willian
24.) Reiss Nelson
14.) Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
30.) Eddie Nketiah

Villarreal team:
13.) Gerónimo Rulli
  8.) Juan Foyth (Pérez Martínez 70’)
  3.) Raúl Albiol (c)
  4.) Pau Torres
24.) Alfonso Pedraza (Moreno 80’)
11.) Samuel Chukwueze
25.) Étienne Capoue 🔴
  5.) Dani Parejo
14.) Manuel Trigueros (Gómez)
  7.) Gerard Moreno
17.) Paco Alcácer (Coquelin 45’)

Villarreal subs:
  1.) Sergio Asenjo
  2.) Mario Gaspar
21.) Jaume Costa
  6.) Ramiro Funes Mori
15.) Pervis Estupiñán
18.) Alberto Moreno
30.) Yeremi Pino
19.) Francis Coquelin
32.) Álex Baena
23.) Moi Gómez
34.) Fer Niño
  9.) Carlos Bacca

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20/21 Community Shield Europa League FA Cup First Team General League Cup Premier League

European Super League Announced

Arsenal have been announced as one of the 12 forming members of the European Super League, which was announced in a statement on Sunday evening.

A European Super League has been in the offing for a while now, with Europe’s top clubs having been disgruntled with the officiating from the top leagues, FIFA and UEFA for a while now.

The other founding members of the league are:

  • AC Milan
  • Atlético Madrid
  • Barcelona
  • Chelsea
  • Inter Milan
  • Juventus
  • Liverpool
  • Manchester City
  • Manchester United
  • Real Madrid
  • Tottenham Hotspur

Arsenal released a statement late on Sunday revealing their part in the organisation of the league. In the statement, Arsenal announced their hope for discussions with the football governing bodies FIFA & UEFA in order to find an agreement.

The Premier League six founding members of the European Super League.

What is the European Super League?
The European Super League is a league that contains the biggest clubs in Europe for a mid-week competition, which is governed by the founding members of the league.

In a statement released by the European Super League, “a further three clubs will join ahead of the inaugural season, which is intended to commence as soon as practicable”.

How will the league work?
In addition to the existing fifteen, there will be five other teams who will qualify for the league every season. The games will be played midweek in home and away fixtures, and are expected to replace the existing UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

The league is expected to start in August, with teams playing in groups of ten, with the top three in each group automatically qualifying for the quarter-finals of the competition, while teams finishing in fourth and fifth will compete for the remaining quarter-final spots.

From there, a two-legged format will follow, which will then lead to a final in May played at a neutral venue.

It is also rumoured that the founding clubs will not be relegated from the league for a minimum of fifteen years.

Will Arsenal still be able to play in the Premier League?
While the league’s founders have said that they plan to “…preserve the traditional domestic match calendar which remains at the heart of the game”, FIFA, UEFA and the official domestic league bodies have said that this will not be the case.

In fact, the blowout from the creation of the league could cause significant ripples throughout football. If such a league were created, Arsenal, along with the other fourteen teams, could see themselves kicked out of the Premier League, the League Cup, the FA Cup, the Champions League and the Europa League, as well as any European Super Cup games and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Another significant issue, is that players playing their football at one of the fifteen clubs in the European Super League, could find themselves banned from playing in any international competitions as well and will be served lifetime bans.

Whether or not these threats are followed through, remains to be seen.

Arsenal’s time in the Premier League may soon be up.

Why is this league being created?
The somewhat precarious nature of the founding member’s finances in recent years have forced them into action. Also, the prospect of more money is far too alluring to turn down.

For many of the founding members, there are a number of financial issues. Barcelona and Real Madrid both find themselves in dire straits financially as a result of poor investments and the COVID-19 pandemic, Tottenham Hotspur have only recently begun playing in a new stadium estimated to cost them anywhere between £800m and £1bn and AC Milan are still clearing up the financial mess of their previous ownership.

The aforementioned COVID-19 pandemic has likely accelerated plans for the league as clubs are beginning to see their bottom line grow smaller and smaller with each passing season.

Outside of the usual financial reasons, the European elite’s issues with FIFA and UEFA has long been a point of contention, with the soon-to-be announced Champions League reforms reportedly upsetting many of the Super League’s founding members.

The prospect of controlling a league/knockout-format competition, with more money and the guarantee of no relegation for founding members within the first fifteen years or so is another tempting offer.

Do any clubs oppose the idea?
Though there has been no official statement from any of the clubs talking about the idea, it is thought that Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain strongly oppose the idea. Borussia Dortmund also confirmed in a statement today that they too will not be taking part in the Super League.

Though neither club has released a statement or made any comment in the press about the idea, their unwillingness to join is shown by their absence in the founding members list, though they could be in the list of the unnamed three.

Andrea Agnelli, Chairman of Juventus, has officially resigned from the ECA.

Who has spoken about it?
The notoriously quiet Stan Kroenke has so far been unavailable for comment on the situation, however, Florentino Pérez, President of Real Madrid believes that the league “…will help football at every level”.

Joel Glazer of Manchester United has echoed Pérez’s statement and has spoken about the impact of wider financial support for the wider footballing pyramid.

Meanwhile, Andrea Agnelli, the Chairman of Juventus released a statement of his own speaking of the league’s importance and has resigned as Chairman of the ECA (European Club Association) and the UEFA Executive Committee.

What are the clubs doing?
At the time of this article being published, there are no concrete reports of anything happening beyond the initial statements being made.

It has been reported that Liverpool are the first team to depart from the ECA, which would mean that they could no longer participate in the Champions League or Europa League, though this is still unconfirmed.

What does this mean for Arsenal’s Europa League?
For now, Arsenal will continue their Europa League journey until either the competition ends or until Arsenal are knocked out, whichever happens first.

It was thought that Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea, the only remaining English teams in European competitions this season, would no longer be permitted to complete their European exploits, however, it has since been announced by UEFA that they will be allowed to compete as normal.

How much would Arsenal make from the European Super League?
While no figures have been formally announced, and likely won’t be, it is reported that the founding clubs will recieve around €3.5bn, which will be split among the fifteen clubs upon joining.

Now, it is unknown if this means that this will be €3.5bn each or if this will mean that the money will be divided equally. In this instance, Arsenal would likely be receiving €233,333,333 or £202,117,759.

JP Morgan are thought to be at the very heart of the European Super League’s funding.

Who is funding the league?
Again, nothing formally has been announced by the league itself, but JP Morgan are the only people that have been mentioned in terms of the league’s finances.

JP Morgan will underwrite the league by debt financing and will then set this against any broadcast revenue in the future.

In fact, JP Morgan confirmed to Reuters this morning that they will be financing the Super League.

How will I be able to watch it?
There have been a number of broadcast partner’s names bandied about at the moment, with no fixed answer revealed.

The rights for such a lucrative league will likely mean that companies such as BT Sport or Sky Sports will likely be priced out in the initial stages, however, the league may opt for a unified broadcaster, rather than splitting broadcasting among multiple companies.

It was thought that up and coming sports broadcaster and streaming service DAZN would be partnering with the league, however, DAZN have since distanced themselves from these reports, though an as yet unnamed global tech streaming giant could be announced soon.

What role will Stan Kroenke have in the league?
The Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke, dubbed “Silent Stan” by fans and press alike, is thought to be at the very heart of the discussions and seems to have been pushing this idea along wioth Liverpool’s John W Henry and Manchester United’s Joel Glazer.

As for Kroenke’s role, it is thought that Kroenke will be given a vice-chairman role along with Henry.

What will happen with Arsenal’s standing in the ECA?
With Agnelli’s departure, it is thought that many others will either follow suit or be forcibly removed from their position for their role in the creation of the league.

Vinai Venkatesham, Arsenal’s Chief Executive has, as of this morning, stepped down from his position on the ECA board. The move comes as something of a surprise, given that Venkatesham formally joined the ECA on the 8th of March 2021.

Is there no chance this can be sorted out?
For now, the league seems fairly set in stone. The founding members have yet to formally discuss the proposals with FIFA, UEFA or their respective domestic leagues or FAs.

The resulting penalties may be enough to assuage the clubs from going through with the plan and the potential fan backlash.

The potential of losing star players may also affect the team’s decisions as well. Players like Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang being unable to represent their national sides could well mean that the teams are unable to retain their top talent.

What does this mean for the players?
The players have not been consulted over this decision. For Arsenal, Vinai Venkatesham will today address the Arsenal players and will field any questions that they have over the European Super League.

However, in a more shocking development, Aleksander Čeferin, the President of UEFA has today announced that any player who partakes in the Super League, will be banned from international competitions.

This would mean that players are therefore unable to play at the upcoming EUROs in the summer, while participation in the FIFA World Cup would likely be similar.

This would be a particularly large blow for players like Kieran Tierney, Bukayo Saka and Dani Ceballos, all of whom are expected to compete at the EUROs this summer.


Such an idea has long been in the offing, with discussions dating back as far as the late ’90s, however, things began to really kick off around the mid-2000s.

Twitter users were quick to point to yet another prophetic statement by erstwhile Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who predicted the league’s formation in 2009, who believed that the league would be formed within the next ten years.

Though Wenger’s prophecy was perhaps only two years earlier than the reality, it is not tough to follow the Frenchman’s logic.

The Premier League has long been ahead in terms of financials, with the lucrative TV deals and the sponsorship deals often meaning that England has been well remunerated for the league’s premier talent.

The increasing frustrations with UEFA, who are expected to announce reforms to the Champions League for the start of the 2024/25 season, have finally worked as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Arsène Wenger predicted such a league’s formation in 2009.

From here, it’s difficult to see what the next move is. The founding clubs seemingly hold all the cards with the league, as billions are expected to be spent on the league and the notion of dictating what does and what does not happen in their own league is a temptation that few are averse to.

On the flip-side, it’s difficult to see how the league can still go ahead. With clubs threatened with worldwide bans for football competitions and players looking at potential bans for international football, it could be very difficult for clubs to still go ahead with the idea.

Therein lies the problem. Can FIFA and UEFA realistically impose these sanctions on the clubs? The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) could well be forced to intervene.

The league’s formation has seen widespread condemnation, even Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour Leader Sir Keir Starmer both strongly opposing the idea. Football fans seem to be divided on the idea, though the vast majority seem to be against the idea.

The formation of the league seems to be yet another example of the growing divide between football fans and the owners of the clubs. The league’s formation now means that football fans are expected to make long-haul trips in order to support their teams in the flesh, meanwhile other fans will likely have to pay premium bucks for a new streaming platform just to watch it.

It remains to be seen if this is just a power-play from the European elite or if the league is a reality, but one thing is for certain, this will get very bloody, very quickly.

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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