On the odd occasion, football offers up a surprise or indeed a memorable moment that we, as fans, recall again and again in conversation. It may be the sight of an exquisite goal but in Arsenal’s group E match against Qarabag, it was the emergence of Emile Smith-Rowe.
At 18 years of age, he delivered a masterclass of concentration and class. He was willing to run, to chase, to get in the right areas and work tirelessly.
His goal in the 53rd minute was the reward for his efforts, underlining his natural talent. If he manages to develop as expected whilst keeping his feet on the ground, we may have witnessed the first of many special performances in this youngsters career.
The encounter was as expected. Qarabag were extremely capable and competitive and Bernd Leno, was kept nice and busy. It was a match that was to change at pivotal moments and at times, it went against the run of play. Arsenal are becoming adept at soaking up pressure and then scoring timely goals.
This has been the case in recent matches such as the Watford game where they had to show resilience by throwing bodies behind the ball and fire fighting for long periods, only to deliver a sucker punch.
After only 4 Minutes, Monreal managed to turn the ball towards the Qarabag goal, only for it to embarrassingly deflect off Sokratis. It whistled in off some part of the Greeks anatomy, possibly thigh or stomach but the traveling supporters weren’t bothered by such trifling details at this point.
They have seen many a European adventure end in failure and in this uncomfortable away fixture anything was acceptable. One of Arsenal’s major failings over the years has been to attempt to fashion the perfect goal by almost walking the ball into the net.
These days, a goal is a goal and artistry is not as important as the end result, a philosophy which has delivered 8 consecutive wins. Mahir Madatov and Filip Ozobic had chances but Leno repelled the majority of advances with confidence in place of the hamstrung Petr Cech.
Arsenal preserved their lead until halftime but it was a slog at times, Qarabag had a handful of decent opportunities but were incredibly wasteful when it was time to pull the trigger. The defence was slightly disjointed and all at sea in spells, but the team worked tirelessly to dent the ambition of the Azerbaijan premier champions.
The second 45 saw the opposition push the envelope in search of an equaliser and it was extremely likely as they proved to be inventive and committed but Smith-Rowe powered in an Iwobi cross and Arsenal had the breathing space they needed.
The Arsenal youngster could have had a goal earlier but was unable to convert a Kolasinac cross. He wasn’t to be denied for long and along with Sokratis and Guendouzi, who appears comfortable on any stage, all three secured their first goals for the club.
Unai Emery felt the need to bring on the big guns in the second half including Ozil, Torreira and Lacazette. The Spanish head coach continues to use his substitutions to meet the changing circumstances and those changes may well have been the final twist of the knife. The class began to show which would eventually overwhelm Qarabag but they didn’t disgrace themselves. They would trouble most sides and it was the absence of good fortune that will irk them the most.
Guendouzi, who is due to represent France put the cherry on top with a dazzling strike, which added insult to injury and he continues to look like an unearthed gem. Iwobi is also worth mentioning, his endeavour and industry continue to shine but unfortunately, Danny Welbeck had a stinker. He covered a lot of distance but was never really a threat or made anything happen.
Despite former Arsenal striker, Ian Wright’s insistence that he be given a new contract, he remains an enigma. If he were in a major film release he would be way down the credits and in no more than a supporting role.
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