Arsenal put themselves at the top of the Group E table, beating Qarabag 3-0 in a game that could have been a lot closer.
Playing with an unusual lineup and odd-looking red shorts, Arsenal got off to a quick start in Baku. Their first goal came in just the fourth minute of play, from a corner taken by Mohamed Elneny. Nacho Monreal’s header fell at the feet of Sokratis, who flicked the ball past the Qarabag keeper and into the net.
Sokratis scores his first goal for Arsenal against Qarabag. 1-0 pic.twitter.com/joB5SgXqmQ— Terje (@TerjeMedia) October 4, 2018
After fending off an attack from the home side, Arsenal nearly got their second inside the first fifteen minutes of the game, but Emile Smith Rowe couldn’t quite reach the ball from Sead Kolasinac for what would have been his first senior goal.
Arsenal kept near total control of the ball for the next ten minutes, but a quick Qarabag counterattack in the 27th minute forced Bernd Leno to take action, saving Mahir Madatov’s shot. The home side had another chance soon after, which Madatov put into the side netting—a wake-up call for Arsenal, who had gotten a little sloppy in defense.
But Qarabag had found something, and the Gunners couldn’t maintain possession like they had earlier in the half. Leno made a more impressive save in the 40th minute, parrying a hard shot from Ansi Agolli. Between that and another chance that went into the side netting, Qarabag had the opportunity to tie or even take the lead in the match, but Arsenal ended the first half with their one-goal advantage still intact.
Unai Emery got the second half started by bringing on Lucas Torreira in place of Monreal, which moved Kolasinac from the midfield to his more natural left back position. But Qarabag were the better side early on, and had Madatov’s goal not been disallowed (he was about a yard offside) it would have been 1-1 in the 48th minute.
If they were going to continue defending as they had earlier, the Gunners needed a second goal, and it came from Smith Rowe on a counterattack. Alex Iwobi, who had been involved in most of Arsenal’s first-half chances, played a smart pass to Smith Rowe, who capitalized this time and shot past the keeper into the bottom left corner.
Emile Smith Rowe scores his first senior goal for Arsenal. 2-0 pic.twitter.com/AFKcvmJU1H— Terje (@TerjeMedia) October 4, 2018
Smith Rowe came off with twenty-five minutes to go in favor of Mesut Özil, followed five mintues later by Alexandre Lacazette, on in place of Iwobi—as was the case against Vorskla Poltava, Emery’s substitutions brought Arsenal closer and closer to a typical Premier League lineup. Özil tried a delicate backward pass when he probably should have gone for the goal, but he made up for it a few minutes later, starting a counterattack that led to Arsenal’s third goal. Lacazette got the ball from Özil, took it up to the edge of Qarabag’s box, and passed to Matteo Guendouzi, whose shot skipped between two defenders and past the keeper.
Guendouzi gets in on the action and scores his first Arsenal goal as well. 3-0 pic.twitter.com/kGWQV6AKwY— Terje (@TerjeMedia) October 4, 2018
Despite being three down with five minutes of regular time to go, Qarabag kept going, drawing another save from Leno before the end of the game. The scoreline wasn’t really fair to to the home side, who, except for their finishing, played a good game. Arsenal’s attack is exactly where it needs to be (Alex Iwobi had another particularly good game), but the Gunners will need to work on their defense on the wings if they want to progress far in the Europa League.
All three of the goals were firsts—until today, none of Sokratis, Smith Rowe, or Guendouzi had scored for Arsenal before. With another three points in the bag, Arsenal lead Group E on goal difference from Sporting, who they’ll play in Lisbon on October 25th. The Gunners’ next match is this Sunday, away at Fulham in the Premier League.