Arsenal’s Europa League Quest Begins with a Win

Arsenal's Europa League
during UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Ostersunds FK and Arsenal at the Jamtkraft Arena on February 15, 2018 in Ostersund, Sweden.

Even before the beginning of Arsenal’s Europa League quest, questions abounded. There were questions about the weather, questions about the surface, and definitely questions about Arsenal’s away form. In the end, however, a solid if unspectacular performance by the Gunners should be plenty to see them into the round of 16. Goals by Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil, as well as an own goal off of the elbow of Ostersunds defender Sotirios Papagiannopoulos saw the visitors to a comfortable win, though a late penalty nearly spoiled David Ospina’s clean sheet.

Arsenal’s Europa League Journey Marches On

The game started much as fans were doubtless expecting. Arsenal dominated possession early while Ostersunds defended deep and tried to play their way into the game. However, two individual errors did the home side in. In the 13th minute, Ostersunds keeper Aly Keita spilt an Alex Iwobi effort, and Nacho Monreal was in the right position to pounce.

In the 24th minute, Ostersunds manager Graham Potter’s decision to encourage his team to play out of the back backfired, as a turnover near the goal line allowed Henrikh Mkhitaryan to grab the back and shoot. The shot looked to be going well wide, but an ill-advised intervention by Papagiannopoulos directed the ball into the net and giving Arsenal a comfortable 0-2 lead.

Ostersunds Found Their Footing

The game shifted gears after the second goal, as Arsenal looked comfortable soaking up pressure and counterattacking, while Ostersunds began to employ a very effective high press. Back to back chances for the home side in the 28th and 29th minutes could have changed the complexion of the game had either one been converted. Instead, the game settled until halftime.

More of the Same

The second half began much the same way that the first half ended. Arsenal, up two goals, were happy to organize, defend and counter. Arsenal effectively put the game and likely the tie to bed in the 58th minute when Mesut Ozil finished a chance created by Mkhitaryan. The goal was notable as it came almost immediately after what looked like a decent penalty shout by the home side.

Ostersunds had one final chance to put a goal on the board and give themselves a glimmer of hope for the return leg, as Hector Bellerin brought down Tesfaldet Tekiein the box. However, a disappointing take by Tom Pettersson made for a very comfortable save by Ospina. The clean sheet was preserved.

Solid, if Unspectacular

It could have been a different game, a far more tense game. Instead, Arsenal were able to take advantage of a pair of catastrophic Ostersunds errors and set themselves up well to advance. Outside of the first two goals, however, some familiar patterns reared their ugly heads.

The team gave away possession far too easily after Ostersunds began to employ a higher press, and a first-half goal by the home side might have changed the game significantly. The defence looked vulnerable, and the Ostersunds forwards found space between Mustafi and Chambers on several occasions. Even a slightly more lethal team could have put this tie in significant jeopardy.

Additionally, the Arsenal attack lacked a cutting edge. Danny Welbeck’s audition for the striker role was uninspiring, and Arsène Wenger will surely be pining for the return of Alexandre Lacazette. Despite being short on confidence and in a massive goal-scoring funk, Lacazette seems to offer the team a lot more going forward than Danny these days.

Arsenal’s Europa League campaign will continue at the Emirates in London on 22 February.

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