That was a match you’d never see from Arsenal in the Champions League. It wasn’t the best played, but man was it fun to watch. The chances came so quickly for both sides that I barely had time to sit down between them. All told, a youth-filled Arsenal side won three points on the road. It’s a great result, and the Gunners have got one foot into the Europa League knockout stages.
Arsenal got off to a dream start when Theo Walcott nodded home a Jack Wilshere cross. It was a typical Arsenal goal – Wilshere and Olivier Giroud combined on a 1-2 to get Jack to the byline, and he chipped a perfect ball back across the face for Theo.
Arsenal went up 2-0 on a horrible mistake from BATE keeper Denis Shcherbitski. He miskicked the ball directly to Walcott who deposited it into the corner. The keeper was under no pressure, it looked like he couldn’t decide whether to play the ball long or pass it short.
Three minutes later, Arsenal looked to have put the match away. Rob Holding banged home his first goal for Arsenal to give the Gunners a 3-0 lead. Per Mertesacker won the initial header off a corner and the ball bounced the Holding who shinned/kneed/thighed it in.
As if going down 3-0 was the wakeup call they were waiting for, BATE responded three minutes later. Mirko Ivanic ran unmarked into the box and thundered a header past David Ospina who could do nothing but watch the ball fly by.
Arsenal stretched the lead to 4-1 early in the second half. Shkodran Mustafi was held back in the box, and Olivier Giroud converted the penalty to score his 100th goal for Arsenal. Congrats Olivier and here’s to 100 more.
Full credit to BATE though, they did not give up down three goals in the second half. They were rewarded in the 67th minute when Mikhail Gordejchuk blasted a rebound into the back of the net. Ospina maybe should have done better on the initial header, but it wasn’t wholly his fault. As with the first goal, Arsenal allowed men to go unmarked in the box.
Two players stood out tonight: Jack Wilshere and Joe Willock. Even though Wilshere was part of the front three, he sat behind Giroud and Walcott to initiate the attack. He was instrumental in many of the Gunners’ best chances, combining on short, quick passes to create space. It was glimpses of a few years ago and the type of plays that make him at once so tantalizing and frustrating as a player. The quality is there in bundles if he can stay engaged and healthy.
Willock played as a deeper lying midfielder. He wasn’t as flashy as Wilshere was fantastic in linking up the play. He also didn’t make any glaring defensive errors, which is impressive for a youngster. If he continues to progress, he could be a long-term solution in Arsenal’s central midfield. Both he and Wilshere (along with most of the side) seemed to slow down in the second half – let’s work on that fitness boys!
All in all, a great night for Arsenal. Walcott scored a brace, Holding scored his first goal for the club, Giroud scored his 100th, Marcus McGuane and Eddie Nketiah made their first appearances, and the Gunners secured three points on the road. Next up, Brighton and Hove Albion on Sunday.