Going into the final game of the Europa group stage, Arsenal had already won the group and had nothing to play for. BATE Borisov had a slim chance of qualifying for the knockout stages with a win over Arsenal and a draw between Red Star Belgrade and Koln. With eleven changes to the Arsenal side, it could have fallen their way.
It didn’t. Not even close.
Arsenal put in a thoroughly dominant performance, overwhelming BATE top to bottom, front to back, 1st minute to 90th. It was so comfortable, it hardly felt competitive with Arsenal post 6 goals and 71% possession. Only a late stage “taking their foot off the gas” from Arsenal let BATE see any time in the attacking half and most of that wasn’t very dangerous.
Arsenal took the lead in the 11th minute from an unlikely source. A long range pass up to Theo Walcott led to some sloppy control and what looked to be a foul and a handball from the BATE defender. Fortunately, none of that mattered as the ball fell kindly to Mathieu Debuchy who lashed the ball into the far corner with some vehemence. One would be forgiven for not knowing he had that in him.
Danny Welbeck nearly doubled the lead when sprung loose on a rare 2-on-1 with Olivier Giroud but Bate goalkeeper Denis Shcherbitski channeled his best mad keeper performance rushing well out of the box to close him down and stopping the pass or cross or chip from the England attacker. Shcherbitski was called into action twice more in quick succession with solid saves off his own defender and Walcott, who was in alone, to keep it at 1-0.
The game continued to be played nearly exclusively the BATE half with Arsenal letting a few chances go to bust until the 36th. A strong tracking play by Giroud popped the ball to PLAYER who immediately set Welbeck off to the races. Trying to do it himself, ignoring the handwaving from Theo Walcott, Welbeck took a heavy touch but the BATE defender cleared it right to Walcott. Theo took one touch and then it was in the back of the net. 2-0 to the Arsenal.
Arsenal kept the pressure on with Walcott having a shot cleared off the line and Jack Wilshere, being urged to shoot by supporters and dutifully obliging, forced a very good save out of Shcherbitski. Then Wilshere would make it 3-0 with a brilliantly worked attack between him and Walcott, leading him to lash the ball into the net from the top of the box at the tail end of the first half.
Arsenal picked up the second half right where they started. After more possession play, Wilshere sprung Walcott who burst forth on the right side, drove a hard low cross into the box which was fired home by OWEN GOAL to extend Arsenal’s lead to 4-0. It got even worse in the 63rd when Walcott was felled in the box and Giroud dispatched the penalty twice to bring the score to only 5-0.
After that, Arsenal went to sleep for a bit and BATE actually caused David Ospina into doing something in the match, after what must have been an excellent nap, but still the visitors weren’t threatening much.
Wenger begrudgingly made his first substitution in the 70th, bringing Reiss Nelson on for Theo Walcott. It made little change on the game, as Arsenal continued to dominate and saw Mohamed Elneny score a lovely curling goal in the 74th. This led Wenger to finally feel comfortable to make his final two substitutions, bringing off Elneny and Welbeck for Joseph Willock and Eddie Nketiah.
After that, it was a bit of a snorefest with Arsenal creating little and BATE trying speculative shots on Ospina that led to largely nothing. None of the subs really impressed and few can feel aggrieved that they weren’t given more time.
Good: it was a solid showing from Arsenal’s B team and bodes well for the holiday period. Wilshere, Giroud and Walcott all had excellent games and made statements that they are ready to sub in to relieve the starting XI during the busy times to come.
Bad: BATE were awful. No offense. They were simply bad.
Ugly: What’s up with Walcott’s hair?
See you for the knockout draw where Arsenal should get the toughest game possible because that’s what we’ve been trained to expect.