The hosts were dominant throughout and despite superb away support, goals from Leandro Trossard and the electric Bukayo Saka secured a 2-0 victory for Mikel Arteta’s side. The defeat leaves Diego Alonso with an uphill task to qualify for the knock-out stages of Europe’s top club competition. We find ourselves bottom of Group B while Arsenal are now four points clear at the top.
In the lead up to the game, captain Ivan Rakitic spoke of the palpable anticipation in the squad. He said you could see it “in the dressing room, on the plane, and en route to the stadium.” As a result, eyebrows were raised when Alonso rang the changes in his starting lineup, leaving several key players out. Aside from the enforced replacement of the injured Ørjan Nyland and Marcos Acuña, Rakitic, Ocampos, Lukebakio and Soumaré were all notable absentees. The decision ultimately didn’t pay off.
Less than 60 seconds into the contest, the hosts went close to opening the scoring when Havertz latched onto a corner at the back post but failed to properly connect. Then, with seven minutes played, Gudelj fouled Saka on the right and, from the resulting free-kick, Gabriel spurned another good opportunity by heading wide. Almost immediately after, the Serb again looked to prevent Saka finding rhythm in the game, affording the winger no time on the ball by putting in another crunching tackle.
Next up, after 15 minutes, it was Kike Salas’ turn to get too tight to the Englishman, giving away another chance to deliver from out wide. A pattern was seemingly beginning to emerge and, sure enough, the left-back impeded Saka again just outside the box. Once more, the chance was wasted as Saka fired well over. Nevertheless, the hosts were in control and enjoying virtually all the possession.
The pressure was mounting and a sense of inevitability growing among the home crowd. In the 29th minute, the Arsenal dominance ultimately told when Saka raced onto a well-timed Jorginho pass and squared for Trossard to sweep home. In an attempt to stem the tied, we dropped into a back five out of possession and, in our first foray forward of the game, Saliba was able to shut the door, turning on the afterburners to race back and dispossess Pedrosa who, starting in a more-advanced left-midfield role, had burst through the centre of the home defence.
When the referee blew the half-time whistle, Arsenal undeniably deserved their lead, with home goalkeeper David Raya having been a total spectator and the hosts having 68% possession. If anything, it was perhaps a surprise that Mikel Arteta's men had mustered just one shot on target, given their superiority.
In the first opening of the second half, Kai Havertz was a lick of paint away from doubling the home advantage, his curling shot going just wide of the outstretched Dmitrović’s far post in the 55th minute. Following this, we finally had a spell of possession in the Arsenal half and looked to claw our way back into the contest. However, unlike recent games, there was to be no late comeback.
Saka soon went clear again, this time cutting inside and making no mistake to give the hosts breathing space at 2-0.
Despite Diego Alonso bringing on Rakitic and Soumaré from the bench in an attempt to wrest back some level of control, the Arsenal midfield was unaffected despite missing captain Martin Ødegaard through injury. Declan Rice, also excellent in the reverse fixture, shone in the centre of the park while the effervescent pair of Saka and Martinelli provided a constant out-ball on the wings. Summing up our night, the recently-introduced Soumaré then went off injured with a booking to his name. Mariano replaced him but couldn’t take advantage of a 74th minute chance to halve the deficit.
Aside from a brief VAR check after the ball struck an Arsenal hand in the box, the home side closed out the win in relative comfort and we will now turn our attention towards a huge home derby on Sunday. The hope will be that what came as a surprise team selection will have afforded some needed rest to several senior players, leaving them raring to go ahead of a critical game at the weekend.