Match Report: Arsenal 1 – 0 Qarabag

Arsenal (1) 1 Qarabağ FK (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Group E, Matchday 6 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 13th December 2018. Kick-off time:
(4-2-3-1) Martínez; Jenkinson, Sokratis, Koscielny, Maitland-Niles; Elneny, Willock; Nketiah, Özil, Saka; Lacazette
Substitutes: Mkhitaryan, Monreal, Guendouzi, Gilmour, Iliev, Medley, John-Jules
Scorers: Lacazette
Referee: Jens Maae (Denmark)
Attendance: 21,500
Our final match in the group stages of the Europa League means that we play the unfortunate Qarabağ FK, who will not only finish bottom of Group E, but are currently at the time of writing second in the Azerbaijan Premier League, five points behind the leaders, Neftçi Baku. If this continues, it means that Qarabağ FK will qualify for the Europa League first qualifying round next season. Their main goalscorer, Mahir Madatov, has bagged six goals this season in their domestic league; we hope that he hasn’t got his shooting boots on this evening, as we would dearly like a repeat score of the 4th October match, when we finished the match as 3-0 winners at the Baku Olympic Stadium.

Tonight we welcome the return of club captain Laurent Koscielny after injury in a team that is basically a reserve side for this, the final match in Group E. Anyway, the game got off to a pace not far short to that of a mid-season testimonial with passing and tackling certainly reflecting that type of occasion in the first ten minutes or so of the match. Having said that, credit where credit’s due, Mr. Emery is certainly not going to risk too many of his top stars in this match, but however, in the sixteenth minute, some clever play from the seemingly forgotten Mesut Özil led to our first goal. Alexandre Lacazette run on to the midfielder’s incisive through ball, and after some adjustment to poor defensive tackling from the visitors, a sweet right-footed shot from the Frenchman easily found the back of the net with no trouble whatsoever. You have to hand it to Mesut Özil, he was certainly showing the young lads tonight how to play in a top team at this level with some superb off the ball running, pulling the opposing defenders out of position time and time again. Of course there’s nothing like a goal to install confidence in a side, and now suddenly everyone started to move up a gear with better passing, movements on and off the ball, and it has to be said that it was also good to see players taking chances with strong shooting from outside the Qarabağ box. For the rest of the first half, Arsenal were in control throughout, with some very impressive play by Eddie Nketiah along with Carl Jenkinson making his presence felt on the right flank at last, moving forward with confidence and strength.

The second half saw Arsenal assert themselves more in midfield, taking advantage of some poor decisions by the visitors. Never really breaking into more than a sweat, it always looked as if Arsenal could score at any point in the game should they so desire. On the hour, Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by 18-year-old defender Zech Medley, whose job was principally to shore up the centre of the defence, which to be fair, he did very well. As expected, Laurent Koscielny was substituted for Nacho Monreal with twenty minutes on the clock remaining; all in all a very satisfactory return from the club captain, and with some important matches on the horizon, it was good to give him a run out tonight against this type of opposition. Eddie Nketiah had a goal ruled out for offside, whilst young Charlie Gilmour replaced a tiring Mesut Özil with ten minutes left on the clock. The match slowed down to its inevitable end, which really won’t go down as one of our great European matches.

All in all a stisfactory victory here tonight, with some excellent performances by the young players, a few of whom were making their Emirates debuts. Good to see Laurent Koscielny start a match again, and more importantly than that, there were no unecessary injuries to the players, nor were there any cards given out by the Danish referee, who to be fair, like our goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez, didn’t have a lot to do tonight either. Arsenal, being Group E winners, will avoid the four Champions League dropouts in the draw on Monday. Onwards and upwards! Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Victoria Concordia Crescit.

Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.

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