There is change everywhere this year at Arsenal. In the dugout, the boardroom and throughout the training ground; and yet the biggest constant so far this season had been out on the pitch. Defensively suspect, beaten in the defining games and yet still full of options going forward and more than adept at effortlessly putting lower ranking opponents to the sword.
A 4-2 beating here of Vorskla Poltava was delivered with the same combination of swagger and occasionally infuriating negligence of any Arsène Wenger side. Even Danny Welbeck still misses more than he scores. It all makes it rather difficult to assess whether there has been legitimate progress under new head coach Unai Emery or whether Arsenal’s lot over the next few years is a Europa League format that struggles to spark any real interest until long after Christmas.
Thousands of empty seats told you that, even if those who did turn out should have at least been enthused by the sight of Lucas Torreira at the base of Arsenal’s midfield. Sterner tests clearly await than opponents whose third place last season in the Ukrainian league was their best finish for 21 years but Torreira’s presence did give Arsenal a balance that they have often lacked. He keeps things simple - N’golo Kanté style - but you can imagine that the likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who scored twice here, love playing with him.
Even with eight changes from the Arsenal team that started at Newcastle United last Saturday, Emery could still select a side packed full of international experience. There were also full debuts for three of his main summer signings. To loud cheers from the home crowd, Bernd Leno was making his first appearance in goal while Torreira and right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner also had their first starts in what was a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The solid midfield foundation provided by both Torreira and Mohamed Elneny soon ensured Arsenal’s dominance of possession, even if the four players further forward struggled initially to find much chemistry. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was playing as the main central striker, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the No10 position behind. That left Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck attempting to stretch Vorskla with their willingness to make runs in behind their full-backs.
The challenge was soon evident. Vorskla had begun with two rigid banks of four who were not much interested in taking risks but clearly highly motivated on what was their first European match since 2012. There were frequently even 10 men behind the ball and both their discipline and concentration was initially high. After 30 minutes, Arsenal had seen 75 per cent of the ball but managed only one off target shot.
Vorskla were seeking to occasionally break forward on the counter-attack, but were punished following just about their first moment of attacking adventure. Midfielder Dmytro Kravchenko had ventured deep into Arsenal’s half but misread a pass for him and was dispossessed by Mkhitaryan. Sensing that there would finally by holes in Vorskla’s defence, Mkhitaryan sprinted forward and released Iwobi down the left flank. The Nigeria forward’s awareness was good and he in turn squared a pass for an unmarked Aubameyang to direct the ball back across Vorskla goalkeeper Bohdan Shust and into the bottom corner.
It was Aubameyang’s second goal of the season and his confidence was clearly boosted. He soon again got back on the ball and, having cut in Thierry Henry-style past several players from the left, hit the bottom of the post with his curling shot. The goal also had a wider settling effect on Arsenal, even if it did not encourage Vorskla to play with a level of ambition and risk that was likely to present many chances. Torreira did hit the side-netting shortly before half-time from a free-kick 25 yards out and, with Iwobi impressing down the left and Lichtsteiner playing almost as an additional winger down the right, Arsenal’s main threat was in the wide areas.
There was also a greater speed in their passing immediately after half-time. Iwobi again broke clear down the left but Mkhitaryan was wasteful in attempting to finish the resulting cross. Mkhitaryan did soon make amends, delivering a precise cross himself that allowed Welbeck to rise above Volodymyr Chesnakov and head past Shust.
Welbeck soon had another chance when Aubameyang exploited growing weariness in Voskla’s defence but directed his finish wide. No matter. Mkhitaryan then fed Aubameyang who skipped past several challenges before scoring a third. Emery’s immediate decision to substitute his striker was a a sensible act of caution ahead of Sunday’s visit of Everton and, with Mesut Özil coming on and also scoring, Arsenal’s dominance was soon further confirmed.
Leno had barely touched the ball but a mistake from Lichtsteiner did allow centre-back Chesnakov to unleash an unstoppable strike that ended any hope of a clean sheet.
And with the very final kick of the game, Vyacheslav Sharpar exploited more sleepy defending to add a second consolation.
A penny for Unai Emery's
We were disappointed with the two goals because we play well for 90 minutes. We want to do better. We want to go forward and score more goals, but not concede at the back as we did. It is important to start with victory in this competition, and give chances to many players. And also to gain confidence.
A word from Danny Welbeck
It was a convincing win, though it was difficult in the first half, because they sat back and made it difficult. We had to be patient, to implement the combinations, and try to get opportunities to score. And we did, we got a few goals, though it’s very disappointing to concede goals as well. All the lads are enjoying working with Unai Emery. Everyone’s behind his ideas, we’re looking to impose our style and keep getting better. It’s not going to work right away, but we want to keep on improving.
Opta's statistical pointers
- Arsenal manager Unai Emery recorded his 32nd victory in the Europa League in this game; the most of any manager in competition history.
- Arsenal have lost onley one of their last 13 home games in the Europa League/Uefa Cup (W9 D3), with that only defeat coming against Östersunds FK in February (1-2).
- Arsenal’s six games in all competitions in 2018-19 have seen a total of 25 goals scored (14 for and 11 against), at an average of 4.2 per game.
- In the Europa League and Champions League combined (excl. qualifiers), Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has netted 21 goals in his last 25 appearances.
- Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been directly involved in 12 goals in 10 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium (nine goals and three assists).
- Danny Welbeck has scored in both of his first two home appearances of the 2018-19 campaign, while the last time he scored in consecutive outings at the Emirates was in his first two home appearances of 2017-18.
- Arsenal midfielder Alex Iwobi has either scored or assisted in each of his three appearances in all competitions under Unai Emery (one goal and two assists).
Another stunning finish with the last kick of the game. Vorskla fly up the left through Rebenok who pulls it back to the edge of the area and Sharpar, the central midfielder, makes what Ron Atkinson used to call a 'sensational late arrive' and speared an unstoppable shot from 15 yards past Leno.
Arsenal 4-2 Vorskla (Sharpar)
Arsenal take it short and manage the clock.
Three minutes to add on and they will begin with a corner on the left after the adventurous Smith Row is block tackled on the byline.
Guendouzi, Smith Rowe and Ozil complete triangles down the left until Serhiichuk whips it away from Ozil. Guendouzi wins it back, threads a pass back out to Ozil on the left. He stands up a cross to the far post that Artur wellies behind for a corner that comes to naught.
Smith Rowe again pierces Vorskla's defence on their right, opening his stride to power past Perduta and play in Ozil on the outside. Smith Rowe continues his run and is found by Ozil's return. He takes a touch that throws the defender off balance but stabs his shot into the defender.
A glimpse of Smith Rowe's vast promise when he dribbles down the inside-left channel and glides away from Sklyar only to overhit his slide pass for Welbeck's run into the box.
Kobakhidze and Kulach were the players to make way.
After the Arsenal goal and their own, Vorskla brought on Careca and Serhiichuk. I didn't catch who went off, I'm afraid.
Another suoerb finish, buried from 15 yards with a swing of the captain's left foot that thrashes a thunderous shot past Leno after some penalty box pinball from a corner.
Arsenal 4-1 Vorskla (Chesnakov)
A handsome move is topped off by Sokratis' diagonal pass into the path of Lichtsteiner's run into the box. He scoops his cross, a bit of an awkward up and under to the back post. Ozil, judging the difficulty perfectly, knocks it in with a deft finish with the sole of his boot, more a trap than a shot.
Arsenal 4-0 Vorskla (Ozil)
Rebenok chases a long ball over the top and down the right from the subsititute Sklyar and whips in a cross towards the back post where Kolomoets prepares to meet it until Smith Rowe scuppers his plans witha diving headed clearance.
Two substitutions - Oleksandr Sklyar replaces Kravchenko for Vorskla. Emile Smith Row comes on for Arsenal, Alex Iwobi departs to a rapturous reception.
Guendouzi, tacking right, hits a glorious reverse pass to Ozil by the left side of the D. Ozil spins on the tightest of turning circles and tippy-tap dribbles to the byline. Running out of room he tries to squeeze a shot in at the near post but Bohdan Shust dive son top of it and smothers the ball.
Kolomoets has a half chance when he climbs to meet Kobakhidze's menacing right-wing cross. Monreal reads the flight perfectly and manages to get his eyebrows on it to steal it away.
Elneny tries to show he;s not just a stopper but can play a bit, too, opening his body to let loose with a rasping right-foot shot from the 18-yard line, halfway to the touchline, but whacks it onto a thicket of green socked shins.
Mkhitaryan does his Alberto Tomba routine, on a Ricky Villa slalom through the box from the right. He beats two defenders and finally himself by kicking the ground when he went to shoot from nine yards out.
That was Aubameyang's last touch. He accompanies Torreira to the bench and Ozil and Hair Bear come on.
Crafted by Mkhitaryan after a pass was picked off. He scurried up the inside-right channel, knocked it infield for Aubameyang who went for the one-two but underhit the return. He got enough on it though to wrongfoot Artur so waltzed round him then whelped a fierce shot off his instep into the bottom right corner.
Arsenal 3-0 Vorskla (Aubameyang)
Ozil and Guendouzi are getting stripped. Literally, as the youth of today doesn't seem to wear their match shirts under their trackies but sit on them.
Iwobi gets in down the inside-left channel again and stands up a cross that Aubameyang should convert but he can't decide whether to head or shoot as the ball comes at midriff height and he improvises a goose step volley taht bunts the ball wide.
The combination play between Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang and Iwobi is tearing a hole in Vorskla's defence down their right. This time Aubameyang is played in by Iwobi, thinks about the shot, thinks about the future, and squares it to Welbeck who stabs it wide on the slide from 10 yards.
Terrific cross from the left by Mkhitaryan after more impressive dribbling from Iwobi down the left. He turns back from the byline and lays it off to Mkhitaryan who fizzes in an inswinger with his right foot and Welbeck creeps between Dallku and Chesnakov to steer it in off his brow.
Arsenal 2-0 Vorskla (Welbeck)
Understandably there are scores, nay tens of thousands of empty seats. Wonder what the 'official' attendance will be.
Positive, thrusting run from Iwobi down the left before he squares to Mkhitaryan who tries to hit it on the half-volley from the penalty spot but it squirts behind off his heel.
No changes as we begin again.
Arsenal betray the ring rust of the eight non-regular starters by taking their time to gel in the first half. Vorksla battle sensibly and gamely, picking their fights and their moments, but the home side has all the class. What they need in the second half is greater poise and precision.
Mkhitaryan chasses in from the left and whips a right-foot shot, trying to curl it in at the far post. Shust leaps high to his left and tips it over with his left hand.
Their patience almost pays off as they recycle it up the inside-left channel, Welbeck playing it to Aubameyang who, with the defenders backing off, thunders a right foot shot that arcs wide of Shust and clips the foot of the right post.
Lichtsteiner and Welbeck work a short-passing move by the corner flag but Mkhitaryan decides to go back to go forward and Arsenal work it all the way back to Leno.
Aubameyang puts Arsenal ahead:
Kulach wins the ball off Torreira who lost his balance, turned quickly on halfway and is pushed over by Elneny. Free-kick which they play short and try to soft-shoe into the box from the right. Sokratis makes a sliding tackle to put the kibosh on that one.
Vorskla are well organised, hold their shape diligently and so far have read Arsenal's passing intentions pretty fluently.
Arsenal free-kick on the right. Torreira takes and shapes to cross, gulls the keeper and defence and shoots but thrashes it into the side netting. He took it with his laces instead of wrapping his instep around it.
Looking at the replay it appears that Mkhitaryan may have deployed some gamesmanship, by shouting at Kulach in Ukrainian to leave Kobakhidze's pass.
A slick counter-attacking goal. Mkhitaryan picks off Kobakhidze's pass at the edge of the Arsenal area, scurries forward, dribbling with his right, then plays a crisp reverse out to Iwobi on the left. He artfully held his run to stay onside, hurtled on to it, took it 30 yards then threaded a pass to Aubameyang, who had kept pace with him, 25 yards infield lunges in and and bludgeons in a shot across the keeper, falling in the process, that bobbles in at the right post.
Arsenal 1-0 Vorskla (Aubameyang)
Torreira and Kolomoets go up for a header and Torreira catches him with an elbow on the nose as he climbed. Kolomoets is hurt but not as badly as Torreira who turns his ankle as he landed. After pouring some water on it he tries to continue.
Monreal goes slow, slow, quick, quick, slow as he stands on the left touchline with the ball, passes infield to Iwobi and darts into the box, taking Perduta and Kobakhidze with him in pursuit. Iwobi uses the space created to open his body and try to curl a Henryesque shot into the top far corner but he can't get it to bend back in. Not so much a banana shot as a cucumber.
A spell of Vorskla possession tests the discipline of Arsenal's defensive positioning. They stand firm until Mkhitaryan sees the opportunity to win the ball back, doesn't succeed but Artur's crossfield pass once he had beaten him is picked off by Elneny.
Iwobi picks out Elneny's run, passing in from the left to the 18-yard line. Elneny telescopes out his right leg to cushion it but it skews off to the left, beyond his reach. Robbie Savage says he should have had a shot but he couldn't because he was so stretched. No damage done, however, as the linesman flags for a spurious foul. Or a ghost offside.
Mkhitaryan floats the free-kick into the box, from the right to the left of the area, and Aubameyang essays a sidewinder bicycle kick, hooking it behind, via a deflection, for a corner, though never on target. In comes the corner and Vorskla scramble it clear.
Another filthy tackle, this time from Sharpar, does earn a yellow card. He missed the ball entirely as Elneny burst away from him and planted his studs into the midfielder's right ankle. Free kick.
Rebenok has a dig from just inside the Arsenal half and barrels a shot straight at Leno, the ball bumping and skidding comfortably through.
A patient passing move, using the angles, frees Iwobi down the left. He takes two touches, prodding the ball forward, then accelerates into the box and tries to whip in a daisy-cutter cross for Aubameyang who had held his run to stay onside and consequently couldn't get there.
Spectacular intervention from Shust who sweeper-keepers his way out of the box and clears before Iwobi can pounce with a header.
Clever Arsenal move ends with Torreira's excellent pass over the Vorskla back four, left to right, for Lichtsteiner's run round the back. He slides in to try to toe it from six yards past Shust but the off-side whistle ended his hopes.
Shust kicks it 70 yards halfway into the Arsenal half, Kolomoets flicks on the header and Kulach, running into the box, flays a half-volley from the right of the area into the crowd. he was hoping for it to dip rapidly and creep under the bar but although he managed to apply the trajectory to go over Leno, he couldn't get it down.
Kolomoets wins a free-kick when Sokratis is judged to have used his shoulders for purchase when winning a header. Vorskla free-kick, 30 yards out on the left. It's bent through the box and Monreal ushers it out for an Arsenal throw.
A stray pass allows Rebenok to have a canter up the right. Lichtsteiner slides in to tackle him, stabbing the ball out for a throw from which Kolomoets ruins an attacking move by standing offside.
Torreira gets up without treatment, blowing hard. Arsenal start to build with short passes inside their own half from the free-kick as Vorskla retreat in two tight banks.
A couple of throws in their own half for Vorskla after a tackle and header from Monreal. Elneny wins the ball, turns back to his own goal and whips it to Torreira who is chopped down by Kulach. Filthy tackle but he escapes a booking.
BT SPort is treating us to both Robbie Savage and Martin Keown. Oh, joy! First touch for Leno and he chips it stylishly and precisely up to Elneny. Already looks more assured than Petr Cech with his feet.
Vorskal kick off in their all green kit, pump it up the right and it floats out for an Arsenal throw.
Out come the teams
Nacjo Monreal, captain for the night, shakes hands with Igor Perduta. Interesting decision to play Aubameyang. He could do with a goal ... which must be the reason he starts. Some high numbers (I'm the face if you want it) among the Borskla players - a 44, 66 and 82.
Trying to work out Vorskla's formation
They seem to have three defenders, a defensive midfielder, two wide midfielders, two central midfielders a 10 and a striker. Uefa has them in a 4-4-2 thus:
Shust; Perduta, Chesnakov, Dallku, Artur; Kobakhidze, Kravchenko, Sharpar, Rebenok; Kulach, Kolomoets.
Is still at the PAOK vs Chelsea game. Very little build-up tonight. So here's Henrikh Mkhitaryan who played against Vorskla in his Shakhtar days:
Your teams in monochrome
Arsenal Leno, Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Monreal, Elneny, Torreira, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi, Welbeck, Aubameyang.
Substitutes Martinez, Bellerin, Guendouzi, Smith-Rowe, Ozil, Lacazette, Nketiah.
Vorskla Shust, Perduta, Kulach, Sharpar, Chesnakov, Kolomoets, Kravchenko, Kobakhidze, Dallku, Artur, Rebenok. Substitutes Tkachenko, Giorgadze, Sklyar, Serhiichuk, Mysyk, Careca, Sakiv.
Referee Bert Vertenten (Belgium)
Bernd Leno makes competitive debut for Arsenal
International men of mystery
It’s not very often we get the opportunity to see something novel in European football but the visit of Vorskla Poltava to the Emirates is a refreshing throwback to the days when TV coverage - and let’s be frank, interest - was less catholic and many of the teams that were drawn against English opponents in the Fairs and Uefa Cups were something of a mystery. Viz the famous Tannoy announcement at Elland Road that coach tickets for the away leg of a European tie would be available for anyone wishing to travel to ‘Standard’ for a match against Standard Liege.
And even the facial hair appropriators and their appliance of betting science would admit that Vorskla Poltava, who finished third in last season’s Ukrainian Premier League, are not exactly household names even in their own homes. But they have been this far before - back in 2011-12, when they won three qualifying ties to make it into Group B where they picked up two points. Poltava, a city in central Ukraine, near the birthplace of Nikolai Gogol, was founded on the river Vorskla and the club, once Kolos Poltava, took its name in 1984. Peter the Great won a decisive battle in the Great Northern War against the so-called peace-loving Sweden there in 1709, something that will no doubt inspire Arsenal’s Under-23 manager, Freddie Ljungberg, to give a blood and thunder pep talk to Unai Enery before the away leg. He will have his vengeance.
As for Arsenal - three-times winner Emery says this competition and its route into the Champions League will be a priority this season. Even so, with matches against Qarabag and Sporting to come, he will have the opportunity to use the full extent of his squad tonight and throughout the group stage. Bernd Leno should make his debut in goal, Mohamed Elneny, Danny Welbeck and Stephan Lichtsteiner must have excellent chances of starting the match and Ashley Maitland-Niles and Konstantinos Mavropanos should come into contention. Too many changes risk spoiling the rhythm, but ‘Lads, it’s Vorskla Poltava’.
We'll have the team news from 7pm.