So that game happened! And it was definitely a football thing. And when the final whistle was blown it really did feel like it was an Arsenal match. That distinctly unique feeling where you eat a really tasty dish and yet an odd taste lingers for a bit. Oh to be a Gooner, ehh…
The first half was an uncharacteristically dry affair. It seemed like a glorified, Thursday night Europa sanctioned exhibition game. The Arsenal players and their movement was a bit rusty while the Vorskla Poltava players seemed to be a tad bit overawed at the scale of the game. The thousands of empty seats in the stadium, however, must’ve reduced any stress on their nerves though. Despite our second straight year in the competition and semi-finalists status from last season – it seems the home fans haven’t really warmed up to the competition – and it does feel like that begrudgingly translates across to players’ performance as well.
Bernd Leno’s debut seemed to be a rather somber affair. He was largely untested in the first half and had little or no pressure on him – so it seemed that playing out from the back wasn’t a particularly troubling issue. The defence was rather solid – Sokratis had a very comfortable time in dealing with any rare Vorskla attacks. Torreira also got his first start at the Emirates. He was – as expected – a feisty presence in the middle of the park, borrowing possession with ease & turning over the ball to attack. He was partnering the effervescent Elneny who too enjoyed his first start for the Gunners this season.
Henrik Mkhitaryan & Alex Iwobi were deployed on the flanks as Danny Welbeck started up top – paired with Aubameyang playing his first European game for the Gunners. All players were trying their best to make the most of the minutes they would get for the night.
After a rather dour 30 minutes – Vorskla launched into a rather worrying attack and fell short because of one bad dummy near the edge of the Arsenal box – when the mistake was pounced upon by Mkhitaryan who quickly launched a fantastic counter-attack – by feeding it to Iwobi; who was rather fantastic throughout the game. He, in turn, found Aubameyang with a delightful cross in the middle and the ball was bundled away for Arsenal’s first of the night.
The buzz died down quickly and the half ended with the home side leading with a single goal.
Surprisingly there were no halftime changes by Emery – and the second half was kicked off with a sense of excitement which the first 45 minutes sorely lacked. Iwobi was having a gala time on the left and he whipped in a ball for Danny Welbeck to head it in to double the home side’s lead.
Shortly after Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang combined again for a delightful goal by the Gabon international to make it 3-0. He could’ve had another goal from yet another excellent Iwobi delivery but for an ambitious shot which blew over the goal. That goal was his final contribution for the night – he was replaced with Mesut Ozil; while Torreria was also replaced with the irresistible Guendouzi. The game lost some of it’s energy from here on with Vorskla players getting a couple of chances to attack the Gunners.
A half chance and a run from Lichtsteiner gave Ozil a chance to score and the game was practically dusted off with the score at 4:0 in the 75th minute.
However, what’d the game be without a dash of the good ol’ manic Arsenal? A rather slow clearance from Lichtsteiner gave Chesnakov an opportunity to score a wonderful goal; with Leno unable to save the curling shot. The game was predictably dying down and yet another half chance of an attack lead to an absolute creamer from Sharpar who halved the deficit in the 93rd minute to make the final score 4:2.
Iwobi, Torreria, Sokratis & Aubameyang will be grateful for the chance to shine today and Lichtsteiner offered a glimpse into why he was the first choice RB at Juventus for 7 long trophy-laden years. Leno’s debut will be soured by the goals he conceded in the end. Hopefully, the result will be all that is remembered as we take on Everton next on Sunday.