Arsenal’s Qualification In The (Qara) Bag

Online Ed: Gunners win at the scene of next May’s Europa League final

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At times I wonder if Unai Emery has some kind of gypsy curse in reverse, such is the good fortune Arsenal seem to be enjoying in terms of not being punished for their lack of defensive solidity. Qarabag had chances as good as their visitors in last night’s match in Baku, yet ended up on the wrong end of a 3-0 scoreline, which could easily have been four as the game wound down.

Granted, with the superior quality of Arsenal’s players, a win should have been expected, but European football doesn’t always work that way, hence Qarabag cost Atletico Madrid four points in two matches last season.

The formation saw Emery play five at the back in a competitive game for the first time since he arrived in North London. In theory it offered a reduction in exposure through the middle and greater freedom for the wide defenders to get forward. It worked early on, as Kolasinac provided a great chance that led to the corner from which his team took the lead, Sokratis getting a deflection on Monreal’s header. That’s one way to silence the crowd.

The other thing that made it less intimidating than it might have been, in spite of a crowd north of 60,000, was the sheer distance between the players and the fans. Not only was there an athletics track around the pitch, but a significant gap between the edge of that and the stands. Architecturally, it may look good, especially from the outside, but the interior suffers the same as most venues that also have to house a running track. The pitch seemed very big, allowing for greater space which often suited Arsenal’s passing game.

Defensively, even with five at the back, chances came for the opposition, and Bernd Leno had a good match to prevent them capitalizing. Ultimately, this was a game Arsenal won simply because they were more clinical in front of goal. It’s a familiar story, but who can argue with nine consecutive wins?

Emile Smith-Rowe was given a start and generally performed well. He had good chances in the first half and was a little unfortunate not to score, although he will have to improve the defensive side of his game, positionally at least. Too often Stephan Lichtsteiner was outnumbered on his flank. Still, Smith-Rowe will only improve with matches, and his contribution aided his team.

Lucas Torreira came on for Monreal before the second half restarted, as Emery switched to 4-3-3. In fairness, I am not certain the Uruguyan made a lot of difference in terms of preventing chances, but after seven minutes, Smith-Rowe finally found the net to ease the pressure. The irony of the build-up was that the goal came from a long punt by Leno, flicked on by Danny Welbeck to Iwobi, who teed up the teenager.

Ozil came on for Smith-Rowe, and later Lacazette for Iwobi. A third goal followed, finished off by Matteo Guendouzi. In the end it proved a comfortable night for Arsenal, even if once again, they looked far from solid.

The worrying thing in this respect is that the team do not seem to be ironing out this flaw, simply getting lucky. Granted, this was a second string line-up, lacking the familiarity of the first team, but it did all feel very familiar. Arsenal will surely qualify from this group now, so their European interest will last at least until the beginning of spring, but by that time, improvement must have been achieved. They will not return to Baku in May without that. Some decent teams will be joining from the Champions League groups – last season one of these produced the tournament winner.

However, against Qarabag, after a five and a half hour flight the day before, it was a case of job done. And a welcome sight for the handful of travelling fans that did make the trip to Azerbaijan.

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  1. mbg

    Oct 5, 2018, 20:06 #112369

    So that's a little bit of history made by/under Unai already, (and it's not a record defeat embarrassment), young Smith scoring on his full European debut wiping out the Ox i8 years ago under whatshisname now,(hopefully the start of many) what a fooking waste, I very much doubt it but lets hope young Smith (and others) aren't schooled and brought up and coached the way he was.


    Oct 5, 2018, 18:31 #112368

    There my be troubles ahead, but while Richard, Raul & Sven may give us a chance - let's face the music & dance. Dick, very sensibly, is clearly taking a few months to see what he can do to improve some of Arthur's left-overs. As others have commented elsewhere, there ain't much between today's £10 mill "bargain basement" offering & the mega-priced "superstar" - the difference can often be the quality of coaching received &, thank goodness, it does seem that AFC have somehow managed to recruit a top class, fully motivated coach - at long last. Praise the Lord & pass the ammo ( to Auba & Laca).

  3. mbg

    Oct 5, 2018, 16:41 #112367

    VoiceOfReason, yes the be careful what you wish for brigade, I remember them, all made up of his luvvies and die hard AKB's, I wonder where they all are today.

  4. jjetplane

    Oct 5, 2018, 16:38 #112366

    Untold have lost the plot since Unai rolled up and got the team winning games home and away. There must be a 100 quotes of how Wengo was the greatest manager ever and when is his statue to be erected. Atwood is a sad little whiner with no objective anymore. Wenger has gone and so should Untold who are stinking up the new Arsenal. Dem bones dem bones dem dry bones/...... Unai Emery's red and white army/we sacked Wenger!/....

  5. mbg

    Oct 5, 2018, 15:31 #112365

    Isn't it great how things and times have changed already, even at this early stage, especially for the fans going out now confident of a, and expecting a win, long may it continue.

  6. 1971 Gooner

    Oct 5, 2018, 14:33 #112364

    Obviously it would be better to play well and win, but winning whilst not playing so well is infinitely preferable to playing well and losing. Can’t argue with results at the moment, and I’m loving eight wins on the bounce. However, I’m not kidding myself and unless we iron out our defensive issues, the next time we play quality opposition we are quite likely to get creamed.

  7. jjetplane

    Oct 5, 2018, 13:57 #112363

    Another win and great to see rejuvenated Iwobi teaming up with Rowe - lovely moment. Ozil was most certainly half going through the motions and looked right peeved when Guendouzi went it alone for the third though Ozil had just sleep walked into an offside position. Contrasting his anti energy with Rowe and Iwobi and we can see which way Unai is heading. His wages are a disgrace and am sure Unai will find a solution to it. Beat Fulham and we are up for anything going. Gone are the days of parked cones and sideways football. Oh yeah - and Tottenham are ****. Thanks Unai for making us care again.

  8. markymark

    Oct 5, 2018, 12:44 #112362

    I believe that last night witnessed the first players not purchased or served under Wenger to score for Arsenal. You’d literally have to go back over 20 years to find similar. So this is now the post Wenger world. Despite our defensive woes this is now the third clean sheet on the trot. David Hytner in the Guardian has written a very positive piece today. However in its positivity it lays bare the dreadful malaise under Wenger. Interesting and exciting times at last!

  9. Gunner Rob

    Oct 5, 2018, 10:52 #112361

    what is impressive is that these haven't been last minute winning goal wins. in each of the last six matches we have gone 2-0 up at some stage during the match.

  10. VoiceOfReason

    Oct 5, 2018, 10:40 #112360

    It's actually eight consecutive wins, rather than nine. This is the first time we've notched up eight wins on the bounce since the 2014/15 season, which instantly ends the "Be careful what you wish for" nonsense we heard so often during Wenger's final years.

  11. The Man From UNCLE

    Oct 5, 2018, 10:27 #112359

    That first goal! My word how many times have we seen that happening to us. Long may this run continue.

  12. Gaz

    Oct 5, 2018, 09:27 #112358

    Another odd performance in all honesty. Won comfortably but defensively we're still offering up too many chances to the opposition. Fact is though that an eight game winning run is fantastic and I'm thoroughly enjoying the season so far. Looking at individual performances though Guendouzi still gets caught in posession too easily and for me wins far to little of the 50/50 challenges he competes for. I think his lack of ball winning effected us defensively. Ozil was absolutely terrible when he came on looked half asleep. We simply cant continue to indulge a player eating up such a huge chunk of our wage salary. I'm desperate for him to do well and succeed but I just don't think it's ever going to happen. Sokratis put in another solid show and I'd prefer to see him and Holding as our two Centre Backs. Star of the show for me was Leno. Made some great saves and looked really composed with the ball at his feet. I hope this is the beginning of a long career for him at the Club. Anyway there's a long way to go before we really see what Emery can really do.

  13. GoonerRon

    Oct 5, 2018, 08:52 #112357

    Another win and another clean sheet. Love it. We are giving away too many chances, however it isn’t purely luck that we aren’t conceding loads given we have invested in what seems like a high class GK who has also brought the best out of our other GK. I can’t help but feel the team is about to morph into a better shape (partly by design and partly due to injuries). Leno for Cech, Holding is close to ousting Mustafi, Torreira becoming established, Laca becoming undroppable and Iwobi on the cusp of ousting Ramsey. Let’s keep the run going and try to improve the defensive balance in training.

  14. RobG

    Oct 5, 2018, 08:19 #112356

    Big thumbs up to any Gooner who made the journey. It will be interesting to see if we make it back there in May - and win. Let's hope so.