Result: Vorskla Poltava 0-3 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 29th November 2018
Venue: Olympic Stadium, Kiev
Starting XI: Cech, Lichtsteiner, Jenkinson, Holding, Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Elneny, Willock, Smith Rowe, Nketiah
Subs: Martinez, Mkhitaryan, Gilmour, Osei-Tutu, Medley, John-Jules, Saka
Unai Emery’s much-changed Arsenal confirmed top spot in Europa League Group E with a comfortable 3-0 win against Vorskla Poltava in Kiev.
The Gunners goals all came before the break as Emile Smith Rowe, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Willock added a nice gloss to a slick display.
The win also extends our unbeaten run to 18 games ahead of Sunday’s derby with Sp*rs.
In temperatures of -12C and against the backdrop of 80,000 empty yellow seats and the Olympic Stadium’s bright blue athletics track, there was a slightly surreal feel to proceedings as Unai Emery’s fathers and sons XI got things going.
Carl Jenkinson started alongside Rob Holding in the centre of defence, Elneny and Guendouzi anchored the midfield, while youngster Willock, Smith Rowe and Ramsey were charged with causing havoc up front with a helping hand from Aaron Ramsey.
It didn’t take long for us to find our stride. After a couple of early efforts by Vorskla’s Volodymyr Chesnakov, one of which forced Cech into a save, we started to dominate possession. Then the goals started to flow.
On 11 minutes Aaron Ramsey showed quick feet to evade a marker in the final third before playing in Nketiah whose shot was closed down at close range. As the ball spilled free, Smith Rowe was on hand to pass the ball into an empty net for his third goal of the season. (1-0)
Having played a big role in the opener, Aaron Ramsey doubled the lead on 26 minutes from the spot. The referee had no hesitation pointing for a penalty when the Welshman was bundled over running away from goal and after dusting himself down he slotted his effort to the right of a static keeper. Vorskla’s players complained that he’d stopped his run-up. He hadn’t. The goal stood. (2-0)
Youngsters Willock and Nketiah both tried their luck either side of the half hour mark, before the former channelled his inner-Thierry Henry to score his first goal for the first team. Given the ball by Elneny about 40-yards from goal, the 19-year-old bound towards the box and when faced with a few men in front of him, simply opened up his body and curled the ball past the keeper. It was a lovely finish. (3-0)
The home side’s efforts in the first half were summed up by a wayward effort by Vladyslav Kulach who, having stolen the ball off Elneny, proceeded to shoot so far wide, he nearly scored in Poltava.
Having watched Willock and Smith Rowe get on the scoresheet, Nketiah was full of beans at the start of the second half as he went in search of a goal of his own. Moments after his trickery had created a chance for Ramsey, the young striker found himself alone in the box with just the keeper to beat but he lacked his finish lacked composure. It was almost like he was trying too hard.
Centre-back Zech Medley came on for his debut in place of the booked Rob Holding and demonstrated his potential with a few nice touches. He was joined by 17-year-old Bukayo Saka who replaced Aaron Ramsey.
Between the substitutions, it looked as though Smith Rowe had bagged a fourth goal when he darted in at the back post to tap home a Lichtsteiner cross that had evaded the entire Vorskla defence. The England youth international’s look of bemusement after scoring seemed to spur the referee to disallow the goal. Did Nketiah accidentally clip the heel of one of the defenders? Maybe.
At the other end, Cech made a very decent save before his opposite number stopped Smith Rowe from finding the top corner with a rasping drive. Vorskla’s man between the sticks also denied Saka whose stepover made space for a shot.
Emery handed a third debut of the evening to Charlie Gilmour who came on for Guendouzi. The Frenchman didn’t put a foot wrong all evening. It’s so easy to forget that, like the lad who replaced him, he’s only 19-years-old.
We really should have added to our tally for the evening. An Nketiah cross rebounded out off Willock and the same man couldn’t find enough loft as he went one-on-one with the keeper. Deep into stoppage time, Nketiah curled yet another effort just wide. Not to matter.
On the touchline, Unai Emery was full of encouragement for his boys. When he watches the game back on his iPad on the way home, he’ll no doubt be rightfully proud. At the end of a tricky trip it was a fine performance. Well done to everyone involved, including those dedicated supporters who had to switch their travel plans.
Enjoy a safe journey home all.