FC Zűrich (1) 1 Arsenal (1) 2
Europa League, Group Stage Matchday 1 of 6
Kybunpark, Zürcherstrasse 464, 9015 St. Gallen, Switzerland
Thursday, 8th September 2022. Kick-off time: 5.45pm
(3-4-2-1) Matt Turner; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, Gabriel Magalhães; (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Granit Xhaka (c), Kieran Tierney; Fabio Vieira, Gabriel Martinelli; Eddie Nketiah.
Substitutes: Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Jesus, William Saliba, Karl Hein, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Catalin Cirjan, Matt Smith, Amario Cozier-Duberry
Scorers: Marquinhos (16 mins), Eddie Nketiah (62 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 70%
Referee: Mohammed Al-Hakim (Sweden)
Assistant Referees: Fredrik Klyver (Sweden), Max Robin Wilde (Sweden)
Fourth Official: Bojan Pandžić (Sweden)
VAR Team at UEFA HQ, Nyon, Switzerland: VAR Rob Dieperink (Netherlands); AVAR Edwin Van De Graaf (Netherlands)
UEFA Referee Observer: Darko Čeferin (Slovenia)
UEFA Delegate: Borja Bilbao (Spain)
We start our 2022-23 Europa League campaign this afternoon at an away trip to FC Zűrich in Switzerland. It certainly seems a while since we were playing in European competitions, so tonight will be a special evening for everyone associated with the club. Apparently, we are currently ranked tenth in Europe on the Nielsen Gracenote Euro Club Index, and are the favourites to win this season’s Europa League, ahead of Manchester United, Inter Milan and Barcelona, according to simulations of the tournament based on Gracenote’s Euro Club Index. A fantastic prediction, but many a slip twixt cup and lip, as we all well know. However, due to athletics and music events the venue has been switched from Zűrich’s Stadion Letzigrund to the smaller St. Gallen stadium.
Although the opening stages of the match were quite sluggish, we had a scare when an error by Matt Turner gave the home side a chance. He received a back pass from Gabriel outside his box and passed it straight to Aiyegun Tosin, who from a very tight angle hit the post; thankfully, there was an Arsenal defender covering on the line anyway, but it was still a bit of a start early on in the game. A few minutes’ later, Eddie Nketiah crossed the ball and Gabriel Martinelli glanced a header wide of the far post, and shortly afterwards, Gabriel Martinelli hit a bicycle kick in slow motion and it went well wide of the goal. On the sixteenth minute, Eddie Nketiah ran down the left and crossed for Marquinhos, who firmly hit the ball into the top corner of the net for the first goal of the game (on his debut as well), and a well-deserved one, too. Shortly afterwards, Fabio Vieira ran onto Albert Sambi Lokonga’s ball over the top of the FC Zűrich defence and dinked the ball over the keeper, only for it to land on the roof of the net, and then it was so close to an Arsenal second as Granit Xhaka, from thirty yards, took a touch and hammered the ball towards the bottom corner, which was incredibly well kept out by a good diving save from goalie Yanick Brecher. We had complete control of the match with good passing movements in the midfield and some superb efforts on goal. However, it all went badly wrong when, a minute from the half-time break, Eddie Nketiah went to clear a corner but accidentally kicked Fidan Aliti instead. Mirlind Kryeziu had to wait for a VAR check, which confirmed the penalty; he calmly stepped up, waited for Matt Turner to go one way and slotted it the other and into the net, to go into the break with honours even.
The stadium observed a minute’s silence following the news of the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. We started the second half in good heart, and showed our desire to win the game as we attacked the home side with urgency. After an excellent shot by Eddie Nketiah, in which he was unlucky not to score, Kieran Tierney ran forward and hit a low left-footed shot that was kicked clear by Yanick Brecher. Our pressure was intense, in which a few chances were tried and missed by Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Martinelli, and in many ways we couldn’t score for trying, unbelievably. Just after an effort by Aiyegun Tosin, in which his right-footed shot from more than thirty-five yards was unbelievably saved in the top centre of the goal, we grabbed a second goal when a cross by Marquinhos found Eddie Nketiah, whose header from the left side of the six-yard box ended up in the top left corner of the net. As often happens when a goal is scored, our opponents had a burst of life in which Nikola Boranijasevic’s right-footed shot from outside the box was blocked, and after some pressure on our goal, Mikel Arteta replaced Fabio Vieira and Marquinho for Bukayo Saka and Martin Ødegaard. The match started to become and end-to-end affair now, with both sides making efforts to score, with Arsenal looking the team more likely to get a third goal. With thirteen minutes of the match remaining, Eddie Nketiah was replaced by Gabriel Jesus, and his presence on the pitch certainly encouraged our players to push that extra yard and suddenly the game swung towards Arsenal in the last five minutes of the match. A shot from just outside the FC Zűrich side via the left foot of Bukayo Saka was blocked and almost immediately, Gabriel Martinelli slotted the ball to Gabriel Jesus, whose left-footed shot was saved by Yanick Brecher. In the four minutes’ injury time, panic set in within the home side in which a Ivan Santini header was saved by Matt Turner, and a soft penalty appeal was denied by the referee. Our last attempt of the match came when Granit Xhaka crossed the ball for Gabriel Jesus, whose shot was saved quite easily by the goalie. It made no difference, as we ran out more than worthy winners on the night.
All in all, leaving the penalty aside, we were not too troubled by FC Zűrich too much tonight. In many ways, Mikel Arteta expected the same thing really, as his choice of players tonight merely reflected that. Next week’s game is against PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates; somehow I think that game will be tougher than this one tonight here in Zűrich.
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: Everton at the Emirates on Sunday, 11th September at 2.00pm (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