BATE Borizov 2-4 Arsenal
28th September 2017
Arsenal haven’t played much in Belarus before. BATE Borizov are the long-running champions of Belarus, and narrowly missed out of Champions League qualification. They have however played and done well vs. Bayern Munich amongst others in previous seasons. So whilst it was not going to be an easy task, we did think going to unfamiliar grounds/teams was a silver lining in the Europa League cloud, right?
As suspected, Wenger played a weakened team, with a mix of experienced players and youngsters. It proved to work, as it was in some ways the same old Arsenal. The team looked slick, passed the ball well, and scored some good goals. However, the defence was as poor as it has been in other games this season, with lapses in concentration and organisation apparent.
Arsenal were 3-1 up by half-time, with Walcott scoring a brace and Rob Holding scoring also. Arsenal looked very sharp in this period, with Walcott’s pace and finishing being too much for the BATE defence. The link up play and vision of Wilshere’s passing was again clearly an influence as he returns to match fitness.
The younger players like Nelson and Maitland-Niles also looked very strong, and it seemed they were taking to this new setting very well. Willock, whose brother incidentally is playing for Benfica, looked good also.
Overall, even with a weakened team, Arsenal were very good, and looked as resolute in front of goal as ever.
The half commenced with a penalty to Arsenal, which was unexpected and possibly moot. Mustafi was being held by the BATE defenders, though the contact was seemingly slight. Nonetheless, Olivier Giroud scored the spot-kick, resulting in his 100th goal for Arsenal.
At 4-1 up, Arsenal were cruising, and passing the ball well in all areas. However, BATE got a second goal due to a defensive error. Mertesacker didn’t really tackle for the ball well enough, leading to a parry by Ospina, and a goal from the follow-up. It was, to use the point again, “same old Arsenal”.
From this point, BATE looked more confident though didn’t have much clear-cut opportunities to score. Arsenal still looked pretty dangerous going forward, but then we couldn’t convert despite chances to Nketiah, Walcott, and Giroud.
Overall, it was a comfortable game, though lessened by some weak defending in parts. The young players passed the ball well, and it seems Wenger is continuing his long-held practice of developing good young talent.
Ospina 6, Mustafi 5, Mertesacker 5, Holding 7
Wilshere looked OK in the midfield, supported by Elneny, Nelson, and Willock. Part of the reason for Arsenal’s early dominance was due to the creativity expressed here.
Willock 6, Nelson 7, Wilshere 6, Elneny 6, Maitland-Niles 6
Giroud did well to score his penalty, but Walcott was very able to score his brace.
Giroud 7, Walcott 7
Man of the Match – Reiss Nelson. Reiss Nelson is emerging as one of the best young English talents at the moment, and we should be all keen to see him develop. The Europa League could be the proper proving ground for him to exhibit his strengths and talents, coupled with the experience from playing foreign opposition.
Honourable mention – Olivier Giroud.
Giroud is often maligned, though unfairly in my mind. He scored his 100th goal for Arsenal in this game, and to get to this milestone, which Henry, Wright, Bergkamp, Smith, etc. all did, is a grand achievement. Giroud is not perhaps at the Suarez, Neymar, Benzema, or Aguero levels, but he has scored goals consistently in France and England, and for his country to good success. Criticism of him is unjust, and he may not be amongst Henry and Wright as the two best strikers in Arsenal’s history. But he has contributed his fair share, worked hard, and attained a lot for himself as a striker.