Arsenal (2) 3 FC BATE Borisov (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Round of 32, Second Leg
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 21st February 2019. Kick-off time: 5.55pm
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Guendouzi, Xhaka; Mkhitaryan, Özil, Iwobi; Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Sokratis, Ramsey, Elneny, Torreira, Leno, Suárez, Kolašinac, Nketiah.
Scorers: Volkov (o.g.), Mustafi, Sokratis
Referee: Alberto Undiano Mallenco (Spain)
Attendance: circa 40,000
Despite the ridiculously early kick-off (courtesy of the intransigence of UEFA) there appeared to be more people in the stadium than was previously thought there would be under the circumstances, which is something akin to a miracle. However, intent is a strange driver; within four minutes of the start, we were one-up courtesy of a messy own goal by Zakhar Volkov via a cross by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The match settled down and in one heart-stopping moment it looked like BATE Borisov were going to equalise when a shot from Stanislav Dragun beat Petr Čech, only for Stephan Lichtsteiner to clear the ball away from the line. Slowly and surely, not only did Arsenal keep their shape, but also created the better chances with Alex Iwobi, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrik Mkhitaryan coming close to scoring at various points throughout the first half. Arsenal’s quickness of pace and thought certainly paid off, when six minutes before half-time, the much maligned Shkodran Mustafi scored our second goal with a superb header provided by a Granit Xhaka corner. Although we were now in the ascendancy, we did look vulnerable at times, particularly in the defensive areas. Despite one or two midfield issues, we kept the pressure up on the visitors, and it certainly paid off, as we went into the break as deserved leaders on the night.
Club captain Laurent Koscielny was having a troubled game generally, so Mr. Emery substituted him for Sokratis just ten minutes into the new half, and you could see the change in the defence almost immediately. Arsenal seemed more immediate at first, somehow aware of their movement and shape, something that Mesut Özil contributed to excellently, it has to be said in his first full match in this calendar year. Minutes later, our new arrival on the pitch, Sokratis, duly scored our third goal on the hour with a well-taken header. Mattéo Guendouzi was substituted for Lucas Torreira after 64 minutes in order to bring fresh legs to a seemingly weary midfield that was starting to look bereft of ideas. When Henrik Mkhitaryan was replaced by Denis Suárez with just twelve minutes left, it seemed as if Arsenal were just simply running down the clock, and to be fair, with the score as it was, who could realistically blame them out there, on this chilly Islington evening. Aside from an unsavoury incident featuring a petulant Granit Xhaka in injury time in which he was fortunate not to have been booked (or worse), that was it, really. Arsenal are now into the draw of the last sixteen of the Europa League with this 3-1 aggregate win that has calmed a lot of North London nerves tonight.
In summary, this win may just have helped us turn a very large psychological corner indeed; a much improved performance from a week ago in this very competition – obviously the work Mr. Emery has undertaken on the training ground has borne successful fruit indeed. A 3-0 win in anyone’s book at this level against any opposition is an emphatic victory, and one that we can certainly take heart in. Mr. Emery’s record in this competition is second-to-none, and bearing this in mind, his experience will be vital in our progression within the Europa League. It was good to see Mesut Özil return, and along with it the playmaker that we need (when he’s on form that is). No tragedies, nor histronics, his match here tonight was a most satisfying one overall; whether he will keep his place against some of the Premiership heavyweights that lie in wait for us over the next few weeks is open to conjecture, but surely he has done enough tonight to remain somewhere in contention within Mr. Emery’s grand and elaborate master plan. Unfortunately we still lack cohesion at the back and in many ways a greater overall vision on the pitch, but the true test of this team will be the results of the matches that are coming up on the horizon in the final weeks of the season. Southampton are our next opponents here at The Emirates on Sunday afternoon, so we will see if tonight’s lessons will be both learned and remembered by the starting XI then. 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.