Arsenal (2) 3 Dundalk (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Group B, Matchday 2 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 29th October 2020. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(3-4-3) Alex Rúnarsson; Cédric Soares, Shkodran Mustafi, Sead Kolašinac; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka; Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah, Nicolas Pépé.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Hector Bellerin, Kieran Tierney, Gabriel Magalhães, Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, Alexandre Lacazette, Willian Borges da Silva, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey, Folarin Balogun, Karl Hein.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (42 mins), Joe Willock (44 mins), Nicolas Pépé (46 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%
Referee: Filip Glova (Slovakia)
Assistant Referees: Peter Bednar (Slovakia), František Ferenc (Slovakia))
Fourth Official: Michal Ocenaš (Slovakia)
Referee Observer: Hugh Dallas (Scotland)
Attendance: A maximum of 300 attendees due to UK government coronavirus restructions
For tonight’s match, the second of six in Group B of the Europa League, we are of course without David Luiz, who has a thigh injury, but it is good to see Alex Rúnarsson, Cédric Soares, Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson getting a start tonight, as much is it is to see young reserves Folarin Balogun and Karl Hein on the substitute’s bench. Let’s go!
A fairly comfortable and confident start for us here at the Emirates tonight, and as expected, Dundalk were cramming their defence with players in order to try and stop us from breaking through. However, their game plan became apparent when Patrick McEleney collected the ball in the middle of our half, advanced quickly with no opposition, and took a chance with a low shot from about twenty yards that Alex Runarsson comfortably pushed behind for a Dundalk corner which was easily dealt with by our defence. Arsenal were continually applying pressure in all areas of the pitch, slowly breaking Dundalk down with good passing and clever movements both on and off the ball. Nicolas Pépé was unlucky not to score after a superb cross from the left by Sead Kolašinac, and a minute or so later, Reiss Nelson’s long range low shot brushed the post after some good midfield work. Dundalk caught us once or twice with clever breakout movements, but in every case, Alex Rúnarsson was on hand to address the danger comfortably. Despite even more pressure on Dundalk’s defenders, we were still unable to break through, and Arsenal were starting to make very hard work for themselves out there tonight. Joe Willock had an excellent shot from just outside the Dundalk penalty area, which was easily saved by the goalkeeper, and then incredibly, a Nicolas Pépé shot bounced between the Dundalk defenders, before Eddie Nketiah managed to get a foot to the ball and look forlornly on, as it bobbled by the post. At last, three minutes before the break, a corner saw the visitors’ goalkeeper, Gary Rogers, make a horrendous mistake in trying to punch the ball and completely missing it, only for young Eddie Nketiah to be on hand to stab the ball into the net to give us the lead. Just two minutes later, a Nicolas Pepe shot bounced off a defender into the path of Joe Willock, who coolly scored our second goal of the night with a confident right-footed shot to take us into the break in the affirmative situation.
Within a minute of the restart, Nicolas Pépé scored our third goal of the night with a beautiful shot into the top corner of the visitors’ net after some quick thinking on the edge of the box. And he used his right foot as well; wonders will never cease! The best goal of the night, no doubt about that. This precipitated a period of absolute doninance for us; we stroked the ball between our players confidently and looked for space behind the Dundalk defence in order to attempt to score yet more goals. On the hour, Shkodran Mustafi and Nicolas Pépé were replaced by Willian and Dani Ceballos, possibly with Mikel Arteta having one eye on the Manchester United match at Old Trafford on Sunday afternoon. A few minutes later, Joe Willock was desperately unlucky not to score when he tried to walk the ball into the visitors’s net, and was subsequently tackled for his trouble when just feet away from the goal. Both Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles had two great chances between them, both of which should have been goals, and with eighteen minutes of the match remaining, Kieran Tierney replaced Granit Xhaka to give some tired legs a rest at the back. More interestingly, Eddie Nketiah was substituted for young Folarin Balogun, who eagerly ran on for his debut; good to see Mikel Arteta giving young players their chance to shine on matches such as these. On the eighty-second minute, Ainsley Maitland-Niles pulled the ball back to Kieran Tierney on the edge of the box, but his shot went high and wide of the mark; then Reiss Nelson’s snap shot went just wide of the far post. We were desperately trying to get a fourth killer goal, but the harder we tried, the further it looked less possible as Dundalk just merely shut up shop, which basically is exactly what happened until the referee blew the final whistle after three minutes’ injury time.
Overall, it was a good win for us. Agreed, there were times, particularly in the first half, when we were getting frustrated because we were unable to break the visitors down, but as soon as we scored, the whole mood of the match changed. Full marks to Dundalk however, they had a game plan, and they truly stuck to it; and they never committed a single foul on any of our players over the course of the match, which is highly commendable. As for us, we have a hundred percent record in this competition; our next match is FC Molde in this stadium next Thursday night, same time, same place.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Manchester United at Old Trafford on Sunday, 1st November at 4.30pm (Premier League). 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.