Result: Rapid Vienna 1-2 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 22 October 2020
Venue: Allianz Stadion
Arsenal: Leno, Cedric, Luiz, Gabriel, Kolasinac, Saka, Partey, Elneny, Pepe, Nketiah, Lacazette
Subs: Runarsson, Macey, Bellerin, Tierney, Maitland-Niles, Mustafi, Nelson, Willock, Xhaka, Aubameyang
David Luiz and substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were on the scoresheet as Arsenal stumbled to a 2-1 victory over Rapid Vienna in their Europa League group stage opener.
After a tawdry goalless first half, the Gunners deservedly fell behind when Taxiarchis Fountas, pouncing on a poor pass by Bernd Leno, fired home from close range.
Going behind seemed to spark Mikel Arteta’s side into action and two goals in quick succession, first from Luiz’s head and then Auba’s tap in, secured three points on the road.
Thomas Partey was handed his first start for the Gunners as Mikel Arteta made seven changes from the side that started the defeat to Manchester City. Our new signing lined up in the centre of the park alongside Mohamed Elneny with Eddie Nketiah, Pepe and Alex Lacazette, captain for the night, in attack. At the back, Bernd Leno retained his place in goal while Cedric and Sead Kolasinac made their first appearances of the season alongside Brazilian duo Gabriel and David Luiz and Bukayo Saka.
The first half was boring. Really boring. A level of boring that rivals being invited to a three-hour work meeting that has nothing to do with you and they’ve banned the use of phones so you can’t even pretend you’re sending an important email while you’re actually scrolling Twitter. REALLY, REALLY BORING.
Vienna were more than happy to sit back in a compact unit and soak up pressure. In response…well, there was no response. We went from side to side and, in open play, created no chances whatsoever. Sure, David Luiz had a tame header from a free-kick saved but that was the sum total of our attacking output.
At the other end, Leno made a couple of stops to deny Fountas, the home side’s tricky Greek striker. They were the types of save you’d trust your gran to make, but not our reserve keepers; both of whom the boss left on the bench to doze.
Other things of note? There were some fans in attendance. Hard luck for them. And the ref was a total bellend, booking three of our players, including Lacazette who seemingly smiled at him too aggressively.
Having been a right fussy bastard in the opening 45 minutes, it was quite impressive that the Czech official missed Nketiah, already on a yellow, introducing himself to some lad’s face with his elbow. With VAR not in operation in the group stages of the competition, we kept 11 men on the pitch. Saka was similarly lucky a few moments later when a ball hit him on the arm in the box.
Vienna looked the more adventurous of the two sides and on 51 minutes they broke the deadlock. They didn’t have to work that hard for it; Leno laid things on a plate for them, making an absolute hash playing out from the back. The German’s attempted pass to Partey was intercepted in the box and Fountas fired home on the angle. (1-0)
Leno wasn’t done wearing his clown mask. Just before the hour mark he misplaced another pass and was forced to make a desperate save. Clearly irked, Arteta sent on Aubameyang and Bellerin for Nketiah and Cedric.
Whether it was the substitutions or a mild sense of panic that kicked in, we got a bit better and with 20 minutes remaining we grabbed an equaliser. Having been taken out by a guy on loan from Barnsley, Pepe dusted himself down, swung in a free-kick and Luiz headed home. (1-1)
Leno continued to play like a man protesting at his inclusion in the team. Racing out of goal to sweep up a ball over the top he swiped a clearance against Gabriel and was lucky that Vienna’s effort at his open goal was high and wide.
Just to rub salt in the wounds of the home side, we took the lead seconds later. Elneny found Bellerin with a defence-splitting pass, the Spaniard rolled the ball across the six-yard box and Aubameyang tapped home. (2-1)
Arsenal were happy to hold Vienna at arm’s length in what remained of the game. Pepe tried a curler that went over the bar and Leno capped his evening with a booking for time-wasting but otherwise, it was uneventful.
Europa League football. It’s just as you remembered it.