Result: Arsenal 3-0 Dundalk
Competition: Europa League
Date: 29 October 2020
Venue: Emirates Stadium
Arsenal: Runarsson, Cedric, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Willock, Elneny, Xhaka, Nelson, Pepe, Nketiah
Subs: Leno, Hein, Bellerin, Tierney, Gabriel, Saka, Ceballos, Lacazette, Partey, Willian, Aubameyang, Balogun
Goals from Eddie Nketiah, Joe Willock and Nicolas Pepe helped Arsenal to a comfortable 3-0 win against Dundalk at the Emirates.
After a slow start, the Gunners blitzed three goals in the space of four minutes either side of the break to break the Irish side’s resistance before easing through the latter stages.
Having beaten Rapid Vienna last week, Mikel Arteta’s side will be well-placed to secure early qualification from Europa League Group B if they beat Molde next week.
After a few weeks soaking up life as an Arsenal player on the bench, Alex Runarsson was finally handed his debut by Mikel Arteta. In front of the Icelandic keeper, we set up with our usual fluid backline. Cedric and Ainsley Maitland-Niles nominally taking up wide positions with Shkodran Mustafi, Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac in the ‘middle’. Mo Elneny and Joe Willock paired up in midfield with Reiss Nelson, making only his second start of the season, in attack alongside Pepe and Nketiah. The bench featured a host of big guns and a Balogun. This was the first time since last year’s League Cup win over Nottingham Forest that the young striker was part of a senior squad.
Given the gulf in quality between the sides, it wasn’t hugely surprising to see Dundalk set up defensively.
The Irish side’s focus was on staying compact and denying us space between the lines, thereby setting Arteta’s players the challenge of moving the ball quickly and neatly in the final third. While we had plenty of possession, slick interplay was at a minimum and the visitors were more than comfortable sitting deep and clearing their box. To be fair, they did have the first shot of the evening, McElneny forcing Runarsson down to his right with a low drive.
In the opening 20 minutes, Arsenal focused on attacking down the right hand side with Cedric overlapping with Pepe and Willock providing support. All three got into decent positions but failed to produce quality when it mattered.
Nelson, playing off the right, looked bright carrying the ball and did his best to inject speed but with Kolasinac trundling outside him he didn’t have enough support to work overloads on the flank. The England under-21 international did attempt a low drive that flashed just past keeper Rogers’ near post and Kola forced a save with a header.
As the game edged towards half time, we started to turn the screw. Willock, who was a bright spark, had a shot blocked and Nketiah nearly diverted home a loose ball after a Pepe shot pinballed around the six-yard box.
Three minutes before the break, Nketiah finally made our pressure tell. The England under-21 international took advantage of a missed punch by keeper Rogers to pounce on a Nelson corner from a couple of yards out. (1-0)
Within two minutes Willock had doubled the lead. The midfielder swept home with a very tidy finish after Pepe’s shot was blocked into his path following a good bit of work by Nketiah. The score at the break was far prettier than the performance. (2-0)
Inside a minute of the restart, we extended our lead. Pepe collected a Willock pass on the edge of the area, rolled the ball onto his right foot and in the blink of an eye found the top corner with his right foot. After a very average opening 45 minutes for him, it was a real touch of class. (3-0)
In the 15 minutes that followed, Dundalk, their confidence sapped, rarely made it out of their half. We popped the ball around nicely and looked like we were enjoying ourselves without creating anything clear cut. Our momentum was temporarily tempered when Arteta switched Mustafi and Pepe for Ceballos and Willian but we got going again soon enough.
Willock and Nketiah both had chances to grab their second goal of the evening. The former went on a mazy run but ran out of room for a shot and the latter couldn’t connect properly with a Cedric cross. Maitland-Niles also tried his luck at the end of a darting run through midfield. His effort was parried away.
Nketiah’s final action of the evening was another shot over the bar after a brilliant solo run by Willock. The striker was immediately replaced by Balogun who came on for his senior debut. Tierney also replaced Xhaka. The rest of the game was spent half-heartedly upping our shot count without overly worrying the visitors.
We head to Old Trafford on Sunday for what will be a far stiffer test.