Dundalk (1) 2 Arsenal (2) 4
UEFA Europa League, Group B, Matchday 6 of 6
Oriel Park, Carrickmacross Road, Cambrickville, Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland
Thursday, 10th December 2020. Kick-off time: 5.55pm
(3-4-3) Alex Rúnarsson; Calum Chambers, Shkodran Mustafi, Pablo Marí; Cédric Soares, Joe Willock, Mohamed Elneny, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Nicolas Pépé, Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith-Rowe.
Substitutes: Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, Rob Holding, Matt Macey, Folarin Balogun, Ben Cottrell, Karl Hein, Miguel Azeez.
Scorers: Eddie Nketiah (11 mins), Mohamed Elneny (18 mins), Joe Willock (67 mins), Folarin Balogun (80 mins)
Yellow Cards: Cédric Soares, Joe Willock
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 52%
Referee: Goran Pataki (Croatia)
Assistant Referees: Goran Pataki (Croatia), Bojan Zobenica (Croatia)
Fourth Official: Igor Pajac (Croatia)
Referee Observer: Georgi Yordanov (Bulgaria)
Attendance: A minimal amount of attendees (circa 3,000) due to coronavirus restructions
Firstly, congratulations to Dundalk, who won the FAI Cup with a 4-2 victory over league champions Shamrock Rovers on this very ground four days ago. However, as far as tonight’s match is concerned, we are champions of the group, and our opponents cannot qualify, so there should be some scope here for squad experimentation, if Mikel Arteta should so desire. Either way, the match should be interesting, if nothing else, as we are looking to win six consecutive major European matches (excluding qualifiers) for the first time since November 2005. Let’s go!
On an extremely heavy pitch that was cutting up quite badly early on, we controlled proceedings with almost no problems at all in the opening stages of the match. Despite the players slipping and sliding everywhere, our passing remained accurate, and Emile Smith-Rowe, Nicolas Pépé along with Eddie Nketiah, gave the Dundalk defence plenty of problems quite early on. As soon as the eleventh minute, Eddie Nketiah charged down an attempted clearance by Andrew Boyle and found the net (despite the best efforts of defender Daniel Cleary to kick it clear), which makes him the highest Arsenal scorer this season so far. After a bit more midfield movement, Mohamed Elneny hit an absolute screamer into the roof of the net to make it two-nil to Arsenal after just eighteen minutes play. To give the home side their dues, they didn’t give up, and continued to press us well, which led to Dundalk getting one back after twenty-two minutes, when Jordan Flores hit a ball into the top corner of our net, leaving Alex Rúnarsson grasping for air. The goals made the match more competitive, with both sides launching attacks in which a few players were desperately unlucky not to score, and with ten minutes to go before the break, Cédric Soares almost got a third when his twenty yard shot was pushed around the post by goalkeeper Rogers. The home side didn’t give up though; on the stroke of half-time, a cross by Patrick McEleney found Darragh Leahy in the six-yard box, but fortunately Calum Chambers was there to block the shot, which let us off the hook in the final seconds before the break.
We started the second half strongly, and were unfortunate not to score on one or two instances, although Dundalk did hit us cold on the break seven minutes after the restart, but fortunately we managed to get enough bodies back to quell the danger. As the match was drifting into nothing but huff and puff, Mikel Arteta introduced Dani Ceballos and Folarin Balogun for Mohamed Elneny and Eddie Nketiah just after the hour and as soon as they were on the pitch, an excellent Cédric Soares free-kick was palmed away by goalkeeper Gary Rogers. A little while later, some sterling work by super teenager Folarin Balogun who held the ball up well inside the Dundalk penalty area before laying the ball off neatly for Joe Willock to finish the job expertly; his first goal of the night, our third. Fairly plain sailing for us now, and after Emile Smith-Rowe being substituted for Ben Cottrell, with just ten minutes of the match remaining, a beautiful fourth goal came from young Folarin Balogun when he slotted the ball past Gary Rogers after collecting an inch-perfect pass in the penalty area from Nicolas Pépé. In an order to consolidate, Ben Azeez replaced Joe Willock, and then out of nowhere, Sean Hoare scored Dundalk’s second of the night with a strong header. In injury time, Calum Chambers put the ball into the Dundalk net, but it was disallowed for offside; it made no difference, as the referee called proceedings to a close a couple of minutes later.
So that was the end of the Group B matches in the Europa League for this year; eighteen points from six matches, a full house. Although this dead rubber of a match lacked importance, it was by no means a foregone conclusion. Good as we were, Dundalk had their moments too, and it got a bit scary at the back at times, but in the end everyone came through. Back to big boys’ football on Sunday night with the arrival of Burnley to the Emirates, and all the worries and doubts will start up again, no doubt. There surely cannot be any one of us who wouldn’t love to be able to transfer those Europa League points to our current Premier League tally. But life ain’t like that.
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: Burnley at the Emirates on Sunday, 13th December at 7.15pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.