Arsenal started their Europa League campaign off with three points, despite conceding two late goals in their 4-2 win against FC Vorskla Poltava.
The match started in front of a patchy and subdued Emirates crowd, and it was clear from the get-go that this wasn’t the same side that had played at Newcastle last weekend. Emery made eight changes to the starting lineup—Sokratis, Nacho Monreal, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were the only players who kept their spots.
It took a while for the Gunners to get on the same page, and for the first twenty-five minutes or so, they struggled to break down Vorskla Poltava’s defense. Lucas Torreira, finally getting a chance to start, lofted some good passes to Alex Iwobi and Stephan Lichtsteiner on the wings, but Arsenal couldn’t finish it off, and as the half dragged on, Arsenal’s best chance was a long shot that Iwobi sent well over the crossbar.
Arsenal didn’t have to do much defending—Vorskla got the ball into their opponents’ half of the pitch a few times, but never far enough to trouble Bernd Leno in goal. And just past the thirty-minute mark, when a Vorskla midfielder tried to play a cheeky ball toward Arsenal’s box, Henrikh Mkhitaryan stole it and started an Arsenal counterattack, with far fewer Vorskla defenders to get in the way. Mkhitaryan passed to Iwobi and Iwobi to Aubameyang, who slotted the ball clinically past goalkeeper Bohdan Shust for the first goal of the game.
Aubameyang gives Arsenal the lead against Vorskla on the counter. 1-0 pic.twitter.com/tpTXI5IoiJ— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) September 20, 2018
Arsenal had three chances to double the score in the final fifteen minutes. Aubameyang hit the post, Mkhitaryan forced Shust into a save, and Torreira nearly scored from a free kick outside of Vorskla’s box—he hit a vicious shot that curved back around the wall, but not quite enough to find the bottom corner of the goal, instead hitting the side netting.
Arsenal started the second half as they finished the first, and two minutes in, Iwobi figured out how to get through Vorskla’s defense—he lobbed a cross in over their heads, and Danny Welbeck headed it home into an open net, giving Shust no chance to even get a hand to it.
Welbeck doubles the lead against Vorskla. 2-0 pic.twitter.com/5WDpxwWzvM— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) September 20, 2018
After being caught out on the counterattack for Arsenal’s first goal, Vorskla had to defend diligently at the expense of their offense, but even that wasn’t enough. In the 55th minute, Aubameyang passed it to himself around a Vorskla defender and hit a great shot from outside the box past an advancing Shust for Arsenal’s third goal. It was his last action of the game; Mesut Özil took his place on the pitch directly afterward.
Aubameyang makes it 3-0 Arsenal. Delightful finish pic.twitter.com/bwR76Br3nv— Terje (@TerjeGIFs) September 20, 2018
To their credit, Vorskla kept their composure and their defensive shape—until the 73rd minute, when the Gunners made them pay for a lapse in concentration. Sokratis got the play started with a pass up the right side of the pitch, Lichsteiner got a high chip pass off before losing his balance, and Özil’s first-touch volley found the back of the net.
Despite being four up, it was Arsenal who couldn’t collect themselves quickly enough after the goal. Vorskla decided that they’d had enough of defending and sent their attacking players down the pitch, and a mistake from Lichtsteiner in front of Arsenal’s box allowed Vladimir Chesnakov to get a shot off. Leno, who had had almost nothing to do up to that point, was caught well off of his line and couldn’t get to the ball in time to deflect it. Arsenal still have yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
Vorskla pulled another one back in stoppage time, a hard strike from Vyacheslav Sharpar after some lazy Arsenal defending, but the whistle blew shortly afterward, and the Ukrainian side came up two goals short. Arsenal had room to get off the gas pedal after scoring four, but probably didn’t want to relax as much as they did—they’ll surely get a lecture from Unai Emery after this one.
The Gunners’ next Europa League match is against Qarabag on October 4th, after a couple of Premier League games, the first against Everton this Sunday.