Arsenal recovered from their blip in Belarus to beat BATE Borisov 3-0 at the Emirates on Thursday, sealing a 3-1 aggregate win.
The Gunners went ahead via an own goal within four minutes, with further goals from Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos sealing a comfortable victory for Unai Emery’s team.
But what did we learn from this Europa League encounter?
1. BATE – Beaten At The Emirates
Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat to BATE in the first leg last week predictably sent sections of the Gunners faithful into total meltdown.
On Thursday, however, Emery’s side proved that result was just a mere blip and immediately set about putting things right. Arsenal found themselves 1-0 up within four minutes at the Emirates courtesy of an own goal, coming out like a house on fire.
Despite the odd hairy moment in defence – it wouldn’t be Arsenal without a few scares, after all – they always looked in control and goals from Mustafi and Sokratis completed the job, sealing passage to the next round in Emery’s favourite tournament.
2. What is Aubameyang?
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has to be one of the most fascinating forwards playing in Europe right now. Get him one-on-one with a defender and he’ll most likely fly past him as if he wasn’t there, as he did before crossing in for Arsenal’s opening goal. Get him in the box and there’s a good chance he’ll stick the ball away.
However, the Gabon international is freakishly poor during Arsenal’s build-up play. Aubameyang accounted for just 7.1% of the Gunners’ time on the ball against BATE on Thursday, while he completed just 73% of his passes. In the Premier League, Aubameyang is averaging just 37.4 touches per 90 minutes this season, the lowest of any player in the Arsenal squad. Yes, that’s including Bernd Leno and Petr Cech.
As long as he keeps scoring goals, it isn’t too much of an issue, but Aubameyang going missing has been a common theme in big games this season and his lack of contribution is highly irregular considering the demands on modern-day centre-forwards.
3. Graceful Guendouzi
No teenager has played more Premier League minutes this season than Matteo Guendouzi, while Thursday night presented the French starlet with another chance to impress.
And impress he did as we were treated to an absolute masterclass in the middle. The 19-year-old sat at the base of the Arsenal midfield and moved the ball with consummate ease, completing 89% of his passes, while he also went above and beyond in driving Arsenal forward with the ball, completing two dribbles – a match-high at the point he was substituted. Guendouzi travelled with the grace and composure of a seasoned veteran, a trait that is becoming so familiar now.
A player who was supposed to be one for the future is very quickly establishing himself as a key cog in the Emery machine.
4. Goalscoring centre-backs
“Right, lads, who’s going to get the goals for us tonight?” asks Emery in the Arsenal dressing room. “Aubameyang? Iwobi? Ozil?”
No need to worry, Unai, the centre-backs have got it. Arsenal opened the scoring via an own goal from BATE centre-back, Zakhar Volkov, before Arsenal’s own defensive chief, Mustafi, added a second before half-time.
And while Arsenal’s lethal attackers kept on searching for their third goal in the second half, it was Sokratis who obliged, thundering a header home from another Granit Xhaka corner.
With defenders like this, who needs centre-forwards?
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5. Gunners must tighten up
So, we’ve established that Arsenal’s centre-backs are lethal in front of goal, as are BATE’s in front of their own.
However, Thursday night shined yet another light on their frailties when defending their own penalty area, with the Belarusians allowed to create a number of viable chances and keeping the Gunners’ faithful on edge throughout the game.
Petr Cech was forced to make a couple of smart saves, while the course of this tie could have been oh so different had Stephan Lichtsteiner not cleared a Stanislav Dragun effort off the line in the ninth minute, denying the visitors a priceless away goal.
In the end, it turned out nicely for Arsenal as they ran out comfortable winners. However, it is all well and good having these lapses against a side with the lack of quality BATE have. In the Premier League, though, they will be punished and must tighten up if they want to keep the pressure on Man Utd and Chelsea in the race for the top four.