Granted, Vorskla were not exactly Atletico Madrid in terms of the quality of resistance they provided, but as the old saying goes, you can only beat what is in front of you. With a very mix and match selection, Unai Emery’s combination of shadow team players and youth prospects did exactly that and very convincingly. The very limited number of attempts on Arsenal’s goal tells its own story – the Gunners controlled this game.
Sure, Vorskla effectively lost home advantage with the match being switched to the Ukrainian capital, and it’s possible this might have been a different affair in front of a raucous full house in their home ground at Poltova. However, given the nature of Arsenal’s line-up, it was a testament to the work of the new head coach that they played the same system as the first team and both maintained possession and created opportunities doing so.
It was also an eye opener to see Carl Jenkinson play at centre back, where he looked comfortable enough. Certainly, he has the height for the position, although the quality of Vorskla’s attackers undoubtedly provide caveats when we consider whether or not he could do a job here in an emergency against better strikers.
But going forward, there was more to get excited about, with the inclusion of Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe from the kick off. The latter two played with purpose and forward drive, with neither looking out of place amongst more experienced team-mates. Nketiah certainly did not have a bad game, but impressed a little less than his other teenage colleagues. Three other teens entered the fray from the bench in the second half – Medley, Gilmour and Saka. The latter wore the number 87 shirt, and Gooner contributor Ian Henry wondered if this was the highest ever shirt number to make an appearance in the first team. He also noted that Charlie Gilmour was Scottish, and wondered who the last Scottish player to appear in the first team was. My guess was Scott Marshall. Remember him? There might have been some obscure one substitute appearance in the League Cup wonder since then for all I know.
Anyway, it was good to have six teenagers on the field in the closing stages as Arsenal looked comfortable with their 3-0 lead and could have added to it. It means they top the group, so I suspect we may see even more youngsters when the team host Qarabag in the academic final group game in a fortnight’s time, especially with the League Cup quarter final against Spurs the following Wednesday.
Arsenal’s unbeaten run continues, and they have now returned to the winning habit. The derby on Sunday is going to be a huge game, because of its potential implications at the season’s end. It will be interesting to see whether or not Rob Holding starts, although the suspicion is that he would not have been on this trip if the manager was certain of his selection. Henrik Mkhitaryan made the trip but did not get on the field, and why risk him when there was no need? It looks like Ozil will start on Sunday with the Armenian on the bench.
I was delighted for the supporters that travelled to the game, with the disruptions and need to change plans – to say nothing about the temperature - that they were rewarded with a winning performance. Apparently the club are going to help them with any extra costs incurred as a result of the switch – which would be travel and accommodation. That’s a pleasing gesture, and given the numbers, one the club can afford.
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