We’ve got our Arsenal back, baby. All it took was fans returning to the Emirates for the Gunners to find another gear on attack and put visiting Rapid Wien to the sword. Arsenal’s 4-1 win clinches first in Group B and ensures that Mikel Arteta’s side will avoid any of the top clubs that drop out of the Champions League for the first stage of the knockout rounds.
Alexandre Lacazette got things started for Arsenal inside 10 minutes with an absolute screamer from 30+ yards. Collected the ball off a turnover, looked up, and BANG. Absolutely smashed one with so much swerve that he nearly sent the keeper around in a circle trying to figure out where it was headed. It was a needed, strong performance from the French striker on the evening playing from a slightly deeper role behind the more advanced Eddie Nketiah.
What a strike! Lacazette has been UNSTOPPABLE pic.twitter.com/viV7oZwNuN— Champions League on CBS Sports (@UCLonCBSSports) December 3, 2020
Speaking of Nketiah, he got Arsenal’s third goal, finishing off a lovely team move. Incidentally, the move was started by Lacazette releasing Nicolas Pépé down the left wing. Pepe found Nelson, Nelson found Nketiah, and he put away his own rebound.
The Lacazette and Nketiah goals were sandwiched around Pablo Mari’s first Arsenal goal, coming in his first game back after an ankle ligament tear suffered way back in June. Mari found himself in acres of space off a corner and deftly flicked it off the far post and in. Not a bad way to make a comeback.
Reiss Nelson had another great Europa League performance, completing 25 of 25 passes and created five chances in the first half alone. He has a spring in his step and a willingness to run at defenders that Arsenal sorely need in their attack. I fail to see what Willian offers that Nelson does not. I know that Arteta values Willian’s defensive capabilities, but I haven’t seen them on display in the Premier League. Add that to Willian being dreadful on the ball this season, and yeah. That’s a change that should happen.
Rapid Wien got one back early in the second half but never really made a game of it. You never want to lay the blame for conceding on one player, but uh, Alex Runarsson did not cover himself in glory on the goal. He parried a relatively routine save into the dead middle of the area and didn’t get to what was a mediocre shot for the actual goal. Props to Sead Kolasinac on the play for making two blocks off the line that nearly saved Arsenal’s bacon.
After Wien pegged them back one, the Gunners retook control. Pépé, Maitland-Niles, Nketiah, everyone on the pitch, really were buzzing around the attacking penalty area, creating chance after chance. Substitute Emile Smith Rowe eventually got the fourth, touching it home after Ainsley Maitland-Niles served it up on a silver platter. That’s two immediate goal-involvements for Smith Rowe in as many games — he scored just minutes after coming on today and assisted Folarin Balogun just after coming on against Molde.
It was a great night all around for Arsenal. Nicolas Pépé had another strong performance and looked like the player Arsenal thought they were getting when they bought him. Maybe the red card incident sparked something in him. Hopefully he maintains this level when he returns to the Premier League linupe. Shout out to Calum Chambers for getting a run out, his first appearance for the club since tearing his ACL in late 2019.
Arsenal pretty much cruised through the Europa League group. 16 goals for, 3 against, and 15 of 15 possible points to clinch the group with a game remaining is all you can ask for. Hopefully Mikel Arteta uses the final group match next week against Dundalk to give guys like Smith Rowe and Balogun more playing time.
North London Derby on Sunday. Let’s go.