Arsenal fight their way out of a carrier bag!
Updated: Oct 12
Qarabag (Carrier Bag) 0-3 Arsenal
Spursday night football returned with a five and half hour flight to Azerbaijan and a kick off time of 5.55pm in the Bacu Olympic stadium, which probably caught out a few!
News had already broken that Unai Emery had opted to take a strong squad for what seemed would be a stroll down the booze aisle in Sainsbury's, only Aubameyang (ill) and Ramsey (expecting twins and a call from his agent) were left at home; even our own 'sickly child' Mesut Ozil made the trip, which is proper LOL stuff.
A few raised eyebrows when the team news broke, pluses and minuses IMO...
Holding and Sokratis playing together.. PLUS
Back three...MINUS (would this bunch of players get it?)
Smith Rowe... PLUS
Leno... MINUS (would he be needed, what if he got injured? etc etc)
Lichtstenier as a wing back...MINUS (has he ever done that?)
Arsenal line up: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Monreal, Kolasinac, Guendouzi, Elneny, Smith Rowe, Iwobi, Welbeck
With all the noise coming from the 69,000+ crowd, booing every Arsenal touch it didn't take long, 3 minutes in fact, for the away team to create danger. Kolasinac beasting his way into the box and crossing for Welbeck, the Englishman not being able to finish and the shot from Elneny on the follow up deflecting wide for a corner. That corner was followed in quick succession by another, which was met by Monreal who rose like a salmon to head towards goal, the ball hitting Sokratis and wrong footing the keeper, 1-0 to The Arsenal, scrappy but welcome! Who said Arsenal start slowly?
Rather than settling nerves or silencing the crowd, the goal seemed to spur the hosts on, Carrier Bag were pressing Arsenal high up the pitch and enjoying plenty of possession. Smith Rowe was looking bit lost chasing shadows and not really tracking back. Kolasinac was looking Arsenal's main threat but leaving big spaces in behind. A better side you felt would have done more with the chances, but the final ball from the Azerbaijani's never found the right player. Either Arsenal would clear well or Leno would be called into a good save, twice in fact in the first half the German international did well. Basically Arsenal were vulnerable to the 'switch in play', very basic stuff when you play a back three which really should be sorted out in training but Emery's side is nothing if not resilient and he's also able to see a tactical change (unlike his predecessor) and act upon it.
Arsenal had other chances all coming on the left. Smith Rowe gained confidence from a move he started, and nearly finished combining well with Iwobi who laid the ball on to Kolasinac for a good cross, the 17 year old just failing to meet it properly, and then again ten minutes later just losing composure in the centre circle, whilst trying to volley home after some really good movement. A good little cameo showing Emery what he's capable of. Welbeck missed a header like Welbeck can (down and wide of the goal), and the opposition finished the half strongly with a few more chances, Leno showing the Arsenal coach what he's been missing with good saves and quick distribution.... though on reflection he shouldn't have been that busy!
Pluses from the first half;
Smith Rowe turning well, Guendouzi/Iwobi looking energetic, Kolasinac going forward, Leno saves and decisiveness.
Minuses from the first half;
The formation, Kolasinac defending, Lichtsteiner failing to get forward.
Arsenal playing with changed red shorts, when the opposition where playing in all dark blue?
UEFA rules gone bonkers, made us look and probably play like Crewe Alexandra!
HT: Comfortable but munching on Lucky Stars again versus a team called Carrier Bag??
Back four! Monreal off, Torriera on, Unai had seen enough danger in the first half to make the switch for the second 45. I personally felt better with the formation, but it took Arsenal sometime to adjust, conceding possession and chances early on in the second half. Only the offside flag saving the Londoners' blushes after Guendouzi was caught on the ball after trying to 'play out of the back'. Another chance minutes later over the back of Kolasinac which was just missed as well, nobody seemed to be reading the danger. What Arsenal needed was something inspirational, a piece of individual brilliance or just a quick break to ease the pressure, and so it came on 52 mins. Welbeck holding the ball up well after a long ball beating the Carrier Bag press, he found Iwobi, and the Nigerian international ran straight down the throat of the defence before realising the overlapping Smith Rowe who finished well between the keepers legs.... (nuts!). Great move, lovely goal and well deserved. (For Smith Rowe not particularly Arsenal).
Did this finish the plucky Azerbaijani's off? Er no...
All the danger was coming down the flanks - both Lichtsteiner and Kolasinac being found wanted defensively; only last ditch challenges from the centre-backs stopping the hosts getting back into the game. It was time for another change, and time for a LMFAO moment as our 'sickly child' Mesut Ozil entered the fray eventually replacing Smith Rowe who could be pretty happy with his evening. Ahh Mesut, you've got to love his languid style, floating around, losing possession one minute and failing to shoot with his right foot when the game could have been won the next... #halfasleep just didn't want to be there!
Lacazette replaced Iwobi who had worked hard although not every dancing run had come off and he'd been caught a few times on the ball in dangerous areas. The introduction of the Frenchman had the desired effect in seeing off the game, breaking free on the 79 minute and setting up Guendouzi just inside the box for a cool finish beyond Wagner. 3-0 and game over.
Carrier Bag still had their chances to get on the score sheet, Leno saving well and Danny Welbeck going all Welbecky when presented with an easy chance by Lacazette to make it four, skying the ball high. wide and handsome.
On paper it will look a comfortable win, but in all honesty Arsenal made hard work of this fixture. You can blame a new formation, maybe the Coach is trying a few things out, but ultimately there seems little improvement defensively game to game whoever the opposition is. That's fine when you're playing Watford at home or Qarabag (got it right eventually), away, but there are better sides in Europe, and quite a few in the Premier league that would have swept this Arsenal team aside. Great going forward, still woeful in defence!
Leno: Far too busy, but did very well with saves and distribution. MOM 7/10
Lichtsteiner: Caught out defensively doesn't like a back three. 6/10
Holding: A couple of last ditch tackles and a cheeky hand ball to save the day. 7/10
Sokratis: Quick and strong but not at his best. 7/10
Monreal: Seemed surprised at being back in a three, not helped definsively. 6/10
Kolasinac: A threat going forward in the first half, rubbish going the over way, loves a back three not a four. 6/10
Guendouzi: Positive on the ball, but caught out a couple of times, took his goal well. 7/10
Elneny: Run around a lot without really effecting anything. 6/10
Smith Rowe: Started slowly but grew into the game, some lovely turns and great goal. 7/10
Iwobi: Plenty of darting moves that didn't all come off but got a good assist. 7/10
Welbeck: Was very Welbecky, huffed, puffed but blew nothing down. 6/10
Torriera: Gave Arsenal shape and balance. 7/10
Ozil: Looked ill. 5/10
Lacazette: Got one assist, should have had another. 7/10
Next up Fulham away at Craven Cottage and a chance to make it nine wins in a row.
Lets hope the flight home doesn't get delayed!