Ostersunds FK VS Arsenal : Arsenal ease to victory
Arsenal as good as guaranteed their place in the last 16 of the Europa League with a comfortable away win over Swedish side Ostersunds FK.
Gunners left-back Nacho Monreal scored from close range when Ostersund goalkeeper Aly Keita fumbled Alex Iwobi’s strike.
Then the home side’s centre-back Sotirios Papagiannopoulos diverted Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s cross into his own net after the Armenian seized on a loose pass.
Ostersund improved after the break but any revival was ended by Mesut Ozil, who made a well-timed run into the area and squeezed his shot past Keita for the third, before the hosts had a late penalty saved.
The Swedish club’s English manager Graham Potter, who has led them to three promotions since 2010, could at least reflect on a bright performance from striker Saman Ghoddos.
The Iran international forced Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina into a couple of saves and led the line with pace and determination.
Arsenal host the second leg of the last-32 tie at Emirates Stadium next Thursday (20:05 GMT).
Welbeck’s wasted opportunity
Freezing temperatures, an artificial pitch and a surprise package of an opponent – for Arsenal, this could have been the dreaded banana skin.
But it quickly became apparent, as the startled hosts passed their way into trouble, that it would be an opportunity for the Gunners instead – a chance, in fact, for some of their fringe men to stake their claims for more playing time, Danny Welbeck chief among them.
The 27-year-old has only made 12 starts this season, after the club signed France striker Alexandre Lacazette from Lyon for £46.5m in the summer.
Gabon forward Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang followed from Borussia Dortmund for a club record £56m in January, seeming to diminish Welbeck’s prospects further.
But with Lacazette out for up to six weeks after knee surgery, this was a chance for Welbeck, who has scored five goals this term, to remind everyone of his ability.
He skewed an early header badly wide and at other times passed when he should have shot, frequently striking the ball without conviction.
A clue to his diffident performance came in his post-match interview when Welbeck, who has suffered badly from knee injuries, spoke of his concerns over the plastic surface.
“I’ve had injuries in the past and it was a 3G pitch,” he said after being replaced near the end by Eddie Nketiah. “You hear stories about playing on those pitches with an injury. It was a little bit hard.”
Mitigation, perhaps, for a subdued display. Maybe he can compensate back on the Emirates’ lush turf next week.
Stage-fright crippling for hosts
Ostersunds FK chairman Daniel Kindberg dreams of one day guiding his incredible success story of a club to new heights in the Champions League.
So he and manager Graham Potter were never going to be happy simply to go along for the ride – even if this was arguably the biggest game of their history.
A club formed on 31 October 1996, 30 days after Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal, have come a long way, battling their way up through the divisions at home, before beating Galatasaray in the preliminary rounds to qualify for this season’s Europa League.
But in front of 9,165 fans at the Ostersund Arena they stalled in a disastrous first half.
Potter’s side favour a passing, possession-based game but they constantly lived on the edge in playing from the back. Mkhitaryan punished a sloppy pass by defender Tom Pettersson for Arsenal’s second goal but even that did not deter the Swedes from their preferred approach.
Some of the slackness in their passing could be blamed on a lack of competitive match sharpness: the Swedish domestic season ended in early November and will not start again until the beginning of April.
There were positive signs during an improved second half, and they were unfortunate not to have a penalty sooner than they did after Arsenal defender Shkodran Mustafi shoved the livewire Ghoddos in the area.
Potter and his colleagues will rue Pettersson’s weak attempt when the hosts did get a spot-kick, and hope for perhaps the least likely chapter yet in their fairytale when they travel to north London next week.
‘We took advantage of their nerves‘ – what they said
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger speaking to BT Sport: “We did the job well, controlled the ball against a good side. They beat Hertha Berlin here, 2-2 against Athletic Bilbao, so they are a quality team. But once we scored the first goal we were in control.
“Overall we played a serious game, so job done. They looked very nervous and we took advantage of it.
“I think the young players in the team played well in the group stages, so they will be kept in the squad and I’ll continue to try and give them minutes when I can.”
Man of the match – Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal)
With the Swedish domestic season over and Arsenal out of the FA Cup, neither side plays again until the return leg on Thursday 22 February