Arsenal (3) 4 Standard Liège (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Group F, Matchday 2 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 3rd October 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney; Lucas Torreira, Dani Ceballos; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson; Gabriel Martinelli.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sead Kolašinac, Granit Xhaka.
Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (13 mins, 16 mins), Joe Willock (22 mins), Dani Ceballos (56 mins)
Yellow Cards: Hector Bellerins
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 62%
Referee: Sandro Schärer (Switzerland)
Attendance circa 50,000
Such a definitive scoreline, such a night for youth and exuberance as well. With ten changes on the team-sheet, Unai Emery was taking a calculated gamble with his academy players in the North London rain. Could they perform at this level? Would they rise to the challenge of a Europa League home tie? Should they be risked? Affirmative to all three questions asked, m’lud.
Of all the young guns that played tonight, 18-year-old Gabriel Martinelli was the name and the man who stood out, and not just because of his brace of goals either. His awareness on and off the ball is truly other-worldly, and his desire to win is unbelievable; what is even more incredible about him is that he was playing for Ituano in the fourth division of the Brazilian League this time last year. He has now scored four goals in two starts for us, and he shows no signs of slowing down nor stopping, which is great news for us, and bad news for the rest of the Premiership.
Arsenal started very sharply, with more than just a spring in their step. The visitors struggled to contain us, let alone create a decent goalscoring chance in the early stages of tonight’s match. Indeed, it was the excellent Gabriel Martinelli who broke the resolve of Standard Liège after just thirteen minutes with a breathtaking glancing header provided by full-back Kieran Tierney with a superb pinpoint cross from the left; two minutes later, our Brazilian wonderkid struck again with an unstoppable shot expertly drilled past goalkeeper Vanja Milinkovic-Savic who had absolutely no chance in keeping the ball out of the back of the net. Six minutes later, the match was firmly placed beyond the Belgians’ reach when Joe Willock (who is going from strength to strength with each match he plays) scored our third of the night. All this excitement in the first thirty minutes of the game! The rest of the half saw the visitors trying desperately to stem the tide of Arsenal’s forwards, which to be fair, they just about got away with.
The second half saw more of the same, which completely frustrated and perplexed Standard Liège to the point of annoyance, which of course led to them being handed two yellow cards for their trouble. Eight minutes after the restart, man-of-the-match Gabriel Martinelli turned from goalscorer into provider with a slick movement on the right that led to an inspired lob over the Liège goalie for Dani Ceballos to run in and bundle the ball over line; four-nil to Arsenal, thank you and good night. Unai Emery made his usual substitutions in the last half hour of the match; Nicolas Pépé for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Mattéo Guendouzi for Joe Willock and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang for Reiss Nelson, all of which were merely a case of fresh legs replacing tired ones. By the time the final whistle came, the relief of the victory that echoed around the stadium became evident.
A great win, and hats off to the manager for having the foresight and intelligence to give the young ’uns a well deserved run out here tonight. They all played with youthful verve and vigour and kept their shape throughout, which at this level is an extremely difficult thing for any young player to do. But let us not get too carried away here; the real success will come when these players are able to carry on their good work when playing bigger clubs with tougher, battle-hardened professionals in their ranks. That will be the real victory. Tonight was great, put it away in the top pocket and remember it for future reference. 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: AFC Bournemouth at The Emirates on Sunday, 6th October 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.