Result: BATE Borisov 1-0 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 14th February 2019
Venue: Borisov Arena
Starting XI: Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Maitland-Niles, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Kolasinac, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette
Subs: Leno, Elneny, Lichtsteiner, Torreira, Suarez, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Arsenal will have to come from behind if they are to reach the Europa League quarter-finals after a desperately poor 1-0 defeat to BATE Borisov in Belarus.
Stanislaw Drahun’s header on 44 minutes was enough to seal a famous win for the home side who saw out the game against 10 men after Alex Lacazette was given a straight red card for an elbow.
Unai Emery made only two changes to the lineup that beat Huddersfield at the weekend, most notably returning Granit Xhaka – back from a tight groin – to the centre of midfield in place of Lucas Torreira. The only other change from the team that started the win over Huddersfield was the inclusion of Petr Cech ahead of Bernd Leno. As was the case at the John Smith’s Stadium we set up in a 3-4-3 formation.
Arsenal started very much on the front foot creating three chances, all stemming down the left, inside the first 12 minutes. Mkhitaryan, set up by Kolasinac, had a glorious chance to break the deadlock inside two minutes but keeper Denis Scherbitskiy got down well to make a great save. Mustafi and Koscielny both failed to get a touch on a cross from the Armenian soon after and Iwobi, arguably our brightest player in the opening stages, had a tame effort clawed for a corner.
Unai Emery said before the game that the conditions would not be an excuse for his side but there was no doubting the pitch made it difficult to play a slick passing game. It looked as though a tractor had been taken to it before kick-off and the ball subsequently bobbled all over the place and players regularly slipped over.
We kept plugging away but the pace slowed. Frustratingly, when openings were created, we weren’t ruthless enough. Lacazette thrice fluffed his lines, first heading a Kolasinac cross over the bar from close range and then failing to control a decent ball from Guendouzi and a low cross from Mkhitaryan.
For all our dominance, BATE showed intermittent flashes of their quality. Petr Cech had to make a smart save at his near post and balls from each flank played to the near post also caused problems. The first from the left was cleared for a corner, the second, on the half-hour mark, found Milic who clipped the outside of the post. We should have heeded the warnings. We didn’t.
Just before half time, a free-kick correctly awarded against Nacho Monreal, was whipped into the box and Stanislaw Drahun, left unmarked, headed past Petr Cech. Having notched five clean sheets in a row in the Europa League our efforts to keep a record-breaking sixth were left in tatters. The home fans went absolutely ballistic. (1-0)
The goal was the eighth time this season we’ve conceded in the five minutes before the break; a ridiculous record for a defence that has been plumbing new depths since August.
Could Arsenal respond? The 10 minutes after the break were promising as Iwobi and Kolasinac probed. Lacazette unleashed a shot from 25-yards that forced a save and came closer still when he had a tap-in disallowed for offside. The assistant referee got the call right, but it was close.
As they did in the first half BATE went out of their way to slow the game. They were happy to sit deep, defend their lead and then try their luck on the break. It wasn’t a bad policy given how naff we were at the back. Hesitation in the Arsenal backline allowed Stasevich to get a shot off that Cech parried clear.
Hleb went off to a standing ovation, dodging a yellow card that would have seen him suspended for the return-leg, before Emery reacted by replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Granit Xhaka with Lucas Torreira and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Kolasinac had a chance to level from a tight angle but his volley on 72 minutes had pace but not direction. He was quickly replaced by Denis Suarez, who delivered another underwhelming cameo. Our passing was atrocious and our corners, of which there were many, were even worse. We were desperately bad and had Cech not been alert to reach a cross, we might even have gone two goals down.
To cap off an awful evening, Lacazette got himself sent off in the dying stages. The Frenchman took a bit of a shove in the back from Alyaksey Ryas trying to control the ball but he reacted by swinging an elbow that caught his opponent square in the face. The referee had no hesitation flashing a red for the offence. We’ll have to find at least two goals at the Emirates without him next week.
While you’d still fancy our chances to progress at home it’s hard to play down just how poor a performance this was. It will go down as one of the club’s worst results in European competition; a truly embarrassing evening.