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Europa League match report: Arsenal 3-1 FC Köln

Half hard, half easy.

Arsenal FC v 1. FC Koeln - UEFA Europa League
That is the look of a man whose bacon was saved
Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Well that was more stressful than I’d hoped it would be. The start of the match was delayed by an hour to deal with crowd control issues, and once it got going, Arsenal came out looking shaky. The back three of Nacho Monreal, Per Mertesacker, and Rob Holding were not on the same page, getting caught at different depths and looking especially vulnerable on the counter.

Then in the 10th minute, Arsenal’s lack of coordination at the back cost them. Holding and Mertesacker were caught too far up the field, forcing Ospina to come 25 yards out to clear a ball. Unfortunately, the Colombian scuffed his clearance badly, directly to a Köln player who then pinged it quickly to Jhon Córdoba, who calmly (and quite impressively) lofted the ball over the helpless Ospina.

The rest of the first half passed without much of note. Arsenal simply did not look sharp. Theo Walcott turned the ball over several times, Alexis Sánchez overhit multiple passes, and Rob Holding looked generally lost, giving away three fouls in the first 27 minutes and struggling to make positive plays when on the ball. Arsenal went in for the half down 1-0, Holding made way for Sead Kolašinac, and Arsenal shifted to four at the back.

And what an effective substitution and shift that turned out to be. Right from the second half whistle, the Bosnian caused trouble for Köln’s backline, and Arsenal looked like a different side. It didn’t take long for the Gunners to even the score. Five minutes into the half, Kolašinac smashed home a left-footed volley after a lovely long ball from Elneny to Walcott led to the ball bouncing around in the Köln penalty area.

With the score equalized, Arsenal started to take control of the match. The Gunners pulled ahead in the 64th minute when Alexis Sánchez did Alexis Sánchez things. The Chilean collected the ball wide left and then, as he has done countless times, dribbled across the top of the box, found an opening, and curled the ball beautifully into the far corner. It was a sublime individual goal.

The Gunners got their insurance goal in the 81st minute on a lovely combination play. A one-two between Alexis and Kolašinac freed the Bosnian down the left-hand side. Kolašinac then found Walcott at the top of the box who deftly controlled the pass with a touch behind his own back and lashed a shot on goal, forcing a strong save. Héctor Bellerín came crashing in off the right, beat everyone to the rebound, and found the back of the net to secure the points for Arsenal.

Mohamed Elneny had a particularly strong game for the Gunners, making several nice recovery runs to break up counters and connecting on a number of long balls to spread the play. Jack Wilshere came on in the 68th minute, and it was good to see him back in red. Reiss Nelson also made a cameo appearance at the end of the match.

It wasn’t exactly how Arsenal drew it up. They looked dreadful in the first half, but a strong second half secured the expected three points. On to Stamford Bridge on Sunday.