Gunners do enough, win Europa League group

Arsenal beat FC Zurich 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night to secure top spot in Group A of the Europa League, and a berth in the last 16 of the competition.

The win ensures the Gunners successfully avoid having to navigate a play-off against one of the teams relegated from the Champions League. The win also provides a boost for Sunday’s derby against Chelsea.

Mikel Arteta’s men started slower than expected and faced early pressure from the visitors who looked a tougher and more attacking proposition than when the two sides last met in Switzerland.

However, a brilliant first-half effort from Kieran Tierney equalized. Arsenal were not at their best, having to survive a conceded goal 20 minutes from the end to secure victory.

Positive

Three points, no injuries and a clean sheet meant it was a case of job done for Arsenal. Bukayo Saka also returned to action, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Negative

It’s now eight games without a goal for Arsenal’s strike force, which will be something of a concern for Arteta. Gabriel Jesus’ performance was full of energy, but it is not quite clicking for the forwards.

Driver rating

7 — Arteta rotated his squad with the Chelsea game in mind, so he will have been pleased to see his run through with victory. However, he would have expected more goals, but the energy and fluidity were not always there. He may also have been frustrated at having to use quite a few experienced players to help secure the win.

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Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best, players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Aaron Ramsdale, 6 — Zurich offered more going forward than when the two teams last met, but Ramsdale will have few quieter games than this one. Claimed a tantalizing cross in the second half.

DF Ben White, 7 — Combined well with Nelson in the opening goal and his overlapping runs in general were a useful outlet. As always, he was aggressive in his defense. Made way before the end.

DF Rob Holding, 5 — Arsenal didn’t always look comfortable when Zurich went forward, and Holding was among those nervous at the back. However, he took the captain’s armband after Jesus left the field.

DF Gabriel, 6 — A quiet night for the defender who did little wrong but was booked towards the end for… winning a header.

DF Kieran Tierney, 7 — Showed incredible technique to keep his foot on the ball and thunder home his first goal since December 2021 to open the scoring. As always, a useful outlet on the left.

MF Mohamed Elneny, 6 — Returned to action for the first time since early August and reminded the boss that he can provide a sense of calm in front of the back four. That said, Arsenal looked a different side when Thomas Partey came on.

MF Albert Lakonga, 6 — Given more license to get forward, the Belgian took time to feel his way into the game. He was more involved in the second half but didn’t do enough to secure a starting spot every week.

MF Reiss Nelson, 6 — Nelson kept his place after the 5-0 win against Nottingham Forest, and he delivered a perfectly weighted pass in the build-up to the opening goal. He later found himself in a good position in front of the goal, but could not control the ball.

MW Fabio Vieira, 6 — The youngster was integral to the opening goal as it was from his thunderous effort from the edge of the area that the ball was blocked and fell to Tierney. Vieira came forward many times. First he misjudged an attempted bicycle kick from a Tierney cross, before seeing another shot hit from around the penalty area. Vibrant, but a little erratic.

FW Gabriel Jesus, 8 — Wearing the captain’s armband for the first time, Jesus was an integral part of Arsenal’s attacking designs. He was everywhere and had the first shot of the game, which was blocked by Cheick Conde. He was also involved in the goal when his cross ended up with Tierney’s left boot. Still, it’s another game without a goal for the Brazilian.

FW Edward Nketiah, 6 — As Arsenal increased the pressure after breaking the deadlock, Nketiah did his best to find the scoreboard. He saw one shot well saved and a drive blocked. Finally, while he didn’t find the net, his movement drew Zurich’s defense around.

Substitutions

MF Thomas Partey (Elneny, 62′), 7 — With Elneny tiring, Partey was drafted in to up the tempo and get the Gunners over the line. He punctuated the play expertly and looked a class above his predecessor.

FW Bukayo Saka (Jesus, 62′), 5 Saka is an obvious change with Chelsea heading into the weekend, and was greeted to loud cheers from the home support. He was quiet after that, but the minutes in the legs will help.

MF Martin Odegaard (Vieira, 73′), N/A — The Norwegian looked to be coasting after coming on, perhaps aware of the derby at the weekend.

DF Takehiro Tomiyasu (White, 73), N/A — Not given enough time to settle into the game, the Japan international picked up a knock not long after arriving.

DF Cedric Soares (Tomiyasu, 88), N/A — Called in to help close out the match in the face of Tomiyasu’s bump.

Source

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