Arsenal took care of business, downing FC Zurich 1-0 to top their Europa League group. It wasn’t the prettiest of matches, but a win is a win. Topping the group means that Arsenal avoid an extra two-legged tie against one of Ajax, Bayer Leverkusen, Barcelona, Sporting CP, RB Salzburg, Shakhtar Donetsk, Sevilla, or Juventus.
Kieran Tierney put in a Man of the Match performance, scoring an absolute rocket of a volley in the first half, and generally being all over the place making things happen all game. It was great to see such a spirited, all-encompassing performance from Tierney after he’s fallen down the pecking order at the club. He may be called into action at Chelsea because Takehiro Tomiyasu had to leave with an apparent hamstring problem that fingers crossed looked minor. Oleksandr Zinchenko was readying to come on when Tomiyasu picked up his injury, which prompted Mikel Arteta to pull the Ukrainian back in favor of Cedric Soares. It remains to be seen who will start at left back on Stamford Bridge.
A few other notes / observations:
- Gabriel Jesus cannot buy a goal right now. He got himself into good positions and had his chances, but can’t seem to find the back of the net. He’ll break through eventually because the opportunities are there. Hopefully it’s on Sunday.
- Swapping Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli out for Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah makes the attack look considerably worse. Who would have thought. That pair work hard and can do some good things, but they aren’t anywhere near the level of the guys for whom they’re rotating in. Arsenal definitely miss the attacking depth provided by Emile Smith Rowe.
- Fabio Vieira has plenty to work on and is a bit less polished and ready than I’d hoped he would be. He gets on the ball, usually makes the right, good pass, and has shown his creativity, but he holds the ball a bit too long and needs to get physically stronger. That will come as this season progresses and into the next.
- Rob Holding ain’t it. He lost two duels minutes into the match and cannot do the on-ball things Mikel Arteta needs from his centerbacks. You don’t have to be a star passer or progressive dribbler, but Holding lacks minimum competencies.
- Good to see Mohamed Elneny back on the pitch after his injury layoff. Being able to rest Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka (who missed tonight through yellow card suspension) and push Sambi Lokonga into the left-side #8 role for Europa League matches is important.
- Sambi Lokonga played better in the more advanced role than he had been doing as a single pivot. That was nice to see.
- The combination of Eddie Nketiah and Gabriel Jesus in attack together doesn’t work. I’m not sure if it’s that they both want to play centrally, that they haven’t gotten many reps together, or something else, but it’s not great.
I hate to keep harping on it after every match (and I think / hope I’m doing better about it), but the referee had a nightmare of a game. His permissive, lax foul decisions allowed FC Zurich to clutch, grab, and trip their way to staying in the match. The “let them play” attitude has a clear, negative effect on the superior team and wrongly levels the playing field for the inferior one. Pullbacks were a particular problem for the ref. Arsenal should have had a penalty in the first half and Kieran Tierney had his shirt ripped by an opponent’s grab in the second — neither were called as fouls. On the flip side, Gabriel Magalhaes was given a yellow card for what looked to be a clean aerial win. At the absolute worst, it was a foul for an arm over the shoulder. I’m not sure if it’s recency bias, the availability of more angles and replays, or that it’s always been this bad, but the level of refereeing in football is nowhere near where it needs to be.
Whatever. The refereeing is out of our (and Arsenal’s) control. The Gunners took care of business and topped the group. Massive match at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.