Arsenal maintained their 100% winrate in the Europa League with a 4-2 win over Dundalk. The Gunners are the only team in European competition to still be unbeaten, un-drawn, by the way. It wasn’t the best played match, but on a rainy night, sloppy pitch, and with nothing for either team to play for, what did you expect?
There were some definite highlights and a few lowlights from the match.
- Mo Elneny’s missile of a goal, top bins. The lad doesn’t score many (it was his first for Arsenal in three years), but when he does, they are absolute bangers.
- Emile Smith Rowe’s strong play, generally. He made the most of his first senior start in a while. He provides mobility and makes runs that very few, if any, of the other guys on the roster make. Would love to see him start getting run-outs in the Premier League.
- Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles had solid games. They have so much more mobility than Granit Xhaka does that I think it may be time to give one of them a try in lieu of him. Xhaka is pretty clearly a better passes than both though, so I get why Mikel Arteta keeps picking him.
- Eddie Nketiah keeps scoring goals. Today, he scored from 12 yards out, which is easily the longest goal he’s scored in his Arsenal career. Goal-poaching is a skill, and he’s got it.
- Cedric Soares is aggressively mediocre. He’s fine, I guess, as a Premier League backup, but he’s not bringing anything to the table that a younger player at the same position would. Giving him a four-year deal will always be a head-scratcher for me. As for those of you who’d rather he start over Hector Bellerin, I just don’t see it.
- Nicolas Pepe had a quieter outing tonight. He was great in the other two Europa League matches and wasn’t as good against Dundalk. That maddening inconsistency is what makes him so frustrating as a player.
- Alex Runarsson could have and probably should have had both Dundalk goals. He’s a, uh, let’s say “work in progress” in goal. I really hope Bernd Leno stays healthy.
- Great to see Pablo Mari and Calum Chambers back on the pitch after their lengthy injury layoffs.
- Another appearance, another goal for Folarin Balogun. Yes, it’s late in matches against Europa League competition, but I’ve really been impressed with him. Strong hold-up play, turns really well with the ball, and can finish. Arsenal need to do all they can to keep him at the club.
- Massive congratulations to Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azeez on their senior debuts. I feel like we say “congrats” and move on, but stop to think about it for a second. I know they’re young, but stepping onto the pitch tonight was, for both of them, what they’ve been working towards their entire lives. That must be a wonderful feeling, and I hope they and their families enjoy it. Both had nice little plays, too — Cottrell with a cheeky, gutsy chipped ball to bypass the press and start the break, Azeez with an ankle-breaker of a turn in midfield.
All told, it was a good evening for the Gunners. The knockout stage draw is on Monday, and we’ll let you know who Arsenal are paired with. The Gunners are home to Burnley on Sunday.