Arsenal kicked off their Europa League campaign with an unconvincing 2-1 win over Rapid Wien in Vienna. It really shouldn’t take going 1-0 down and being forced to bring on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Hector Bellerin for the Gunners to get things going, but here we are. Goals from David Luiz and Aubameyang were enough to claim the points, but another insipid attacking performance from Mikel Arteta’s side is concerning.
The Gunners don’t offer much going forward. They don’t generate enough chances, and they don’t take many shots. That’s not a recipe for success. As was the case today and has been in the past, a mistake can cost them a cheaply conceded goal. And when you’re not scoring many goals, those lapses can make the difference. Today, it was a far-too-casual pass from Bernd Leno that got cut out as Arsenal tried to play out of the back from a goal kick that gifted the hosts the lead.
Credit to Arteta and Arsenal, however, the substitutions made the difference. Nicolas Pepe, who had a good game overall, looked even more dangerous combining with Hector Bellerin. He earned, then beautifully served in, the free kick that David Luiz headed home for the first goal. On the second, Mohamed Elneny found Bellerin’s intelligent run who then picked out Aubameyang for the tap-in winner.
Elneny’s performance was encouraging — he’s continuing to play more progressive, forward passes. His midfield partner on the evening, Thomas Partey, did even more of that. The Ghanaian put in a man-of-the-match performance in his first start for the Gunners. He had the most tackles, most ball recoveries, and progressed the ball up the pitch. Gabriel put in a solid shift as well.
On the other side of things, Cedric was dreadful. He could not seem to find the correct weight on his passes all evening. Sead Kolasinac showed again that he’s not up to the level Arsenal need. Bernd Leno looked uncharacteristically shaky on the ball today. And Alexandre Lacazette’s hesitation / indecision on the ball killed a move that should have seen Aubameyang clear in on goal for a third goal.
But at the end of the day, three points are three points. Coming from 1-0 down in second half on the road isn’t easy, and Arsenal showed good resolve to manage it. As I said, the lack of offense continues to be a worry, and Arsenal likely won’t be able to outrun the problem all season. They need to find a way to consistently generate chances and shots rather than banking on converting the one or two they do manage. Ostensibly easier upcoming Europa League matches against Dundalk and Molde will hopefully give the Gunners an opportunity to develop those attacking combinations.