match report – player ratings – arteta reaction
Arsenal finished top of Europa League Group A after a 1-0 win over FC Zurich at the Emirates last night. Kieran Tierney produced a quality moment that was enough to win the game, and finishing first means we avoid another round of matches early in the new year.
This thread from ESPN’s Dale Johnson perfectly describes why that’s a good thing.
The result, good. The rest, fine. Not that much. I’m not going to complain about a victory, far from it. We made 7 changes from the team that beat Nottingham Forest, but filled out the starting line-up with Ben White, Gabriel and Gabriel Jesus, while Aaron Ramsdale started again as Matt Turner is still out injured.
Zurich started well, with the fumes that their fans had produced with a lot of flares, but little by little we got into it. A good pass from Reiss Nelson found an overlapping White, clipped it, Vieira’s shot was blocked, darted to Tierney outside the box and he kicked well over for a half volley into the bottom corner.
Vieira had chances in the first half; one blocked by a defender, one by Jesus (I think). Eddie forced the keeper to make a couple of saves, one from a very decent header, and there was a point where he could have fallen into the box when his shirt was taken off, but given the way this referee gave us nothing in all night, I’m not convinced we would have gotten a penalty even if he had.
Clearly, this particular official watched the Southampton match recently and thought: ‘This referee is my hero. I’m going to be exactly like him!’ So the Zürich defenders were allowed to hit our players from behind over and over again, and we got nothing, but when their little left-back screeched every time someone approached him, they got a free kick. Tierney literally had his shirt ripped in two and we didn’t get a decision in our favor. The decision to book Gabriel and give Zurich a free kick deep in second-half stoppage time was an abomination. Fortunately, it came to nothing.
Still, I think we were about to press our lead into the break. We had the most chances, 12 shots against his 4, but it wasn’t particularly convincing. With PSV leading in Norway, a one-goal lead was precarious, and as the second half unfolded, the nervousness could be felt. Mikel Arteta brought in Bukayo Saka and Thomas Partey, the latter in particular should have given us more control, especially on another night when the game more or less bypassed Albert Sambi Lokonga, but he couldn’t do that.
Takehiro Tomiyasu and Martin Odegaard entered, but at the moment the momentum, such as it was, was with the visitors. In over 20 minutes, Odegaard only had 8 touches on the ball, which says a lot about where the game was being played. Zurich had a goal rightly disallowed for offside, a warning sign that didn’t see us react other than ‘Oh shit, let’s defend’.
They took a shot right up, Tomi got hurt, Cedric came in, there were a couple of dangerous low crosses, and then that late free kick I mentioned earlier. Not one bit of that was funny at all. I know we can’t win every game 5-0, and Zurich have recently changed their manager, which has obviously helped them, but it was very low quality overall.
Then the final whistle. A much more welcome sound than a big baby crying like a big baby, and some relief. The last thing we need is another couple of fixtures in this competition, and when you look at the likes of Ajax, Barcelona, Juventus, Monaco, Man Utd, Sevilla and Roma in that group, they will have to go through a play-off round. , we should be glad we’re not involved in that. So on the basis of doing the job we had to do in this group stage, I play fair.
Last season without European football was not a good one, not least because it meant that very few team members took part and there were times when the players arrived too cold. We’ve been able to give the ‘second row’ game time, and that’s valuable in itself and hopefully beneficial in the future, but I don’t think anyone really stood out during these games.
Two goals in six for Eddie, you probably expected a little more. Lokonga has had his problems in that deep-lying role, but he played further up the pitch last night, basically absent for most of the first half, and although he improved in the second period, there was just something missing from his game when we were under pressure. Lack of presence. Fabio Vieira is still finding his place in English football and he had some good times in these Europa League games, but maybe he didn’t deliver as much as we expected. Which is not to be too critical of these guys, but I don’t think it’s an unreasonable observation that there is still room for improvement.
That said, I’m very pleased for Tierney, whose season has been difficult, dealing for the first time in his career with a situation where he’s not the No. 1 pick every week. Last night I thought he was probably our best player, and he showed that he’s up for this challenge by producing the game’s defining moment.
Later, Mikel Arteta said:
We obviously had some big chances that we didn’t take and that made the game more difficult in the last 15-20 minutes. We didn’t control certain situations and we had to dig into the ones we did. We found a way to win and we are the first in the group.
In many ways, the Europa League group stage is like a trip to a proctologist. You just have to grit your teeth, get over it and hope for the best possible outcome. You can take off the glove, doctor, we’re done.
The round of 16 await.
We’ll have a podcast for you a little later this morning, stay tuned. For now, have fun.