Youngster Eddie Nketiah impresses, Laurent Koscielny and Mesut Ozil return vs. Qarabag
LONDON-Arsenal closed out their Europa League group campaign with a 1-0 win over Qarabag at the Emirates on Thursday, with Alexandre Lacazette's first-half goal the only bright spot in an otherwise drab affair.
Lacazette received a pass from Mesut Ozil in the area and did well to cut away from a defender before slotting a low shot under goalkeeper Vagner in the 16th minute.
Arsenal had already clinched first place in the group while Qarabag had no chance of advancing, making this essentially a meaningless match. It felt like it as well, with the visitors offering little in terms of attacking threat and Arsenal seemingly happy to play out the game at a leisurely pace after going ahead.
Eddie Nketiah had a goal ruled out for offside after the break, while 17-year-old winger Bukayo Saka missed a gilt-edged chance to double the lead late on.
Laurent Koscielny finally returned after seven months out with a torn Achilles tendon, while Mesut Ozil was also back after a month out, handing Unai Emery a welcome boost heading into the busy festive period.
Arsenal's youngsters also served up another reminder that there is plenty of talent coming out of the club's academy at the moment. The highly rated Saka made his full debut while the 19-year-old Nketiah put in another mature display on the wing.
There was little in the way of intensity on this night and it's hard to find a single player who really impressed, although the Gunners can hardly be blamed for treating this match like the meaningless affair it was. But Emery is a hard task master who probably wanted to see a bit more spark and creativity from his players. Instead, the sparse crowd was treated to a game that resembled an Emirates Cup preseason match more than a European night.
Manager rating out of 10
6 -- Emery once again fielded a mix of experienced veterans and academy youngsters, allowing him to rest his regulars for Sunday's Premier League trip to Southampton. The decision to start Lacazette and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, though, could have easily backfired if either had picked up an injury and seemed like an unnecessary risk at such a crucial stage of the season. However, the Spaniard deserves credit for the way he has managed to rotate heavily throughout the group stage without sacrificing results.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Emiliano Martinez, 5 -- Made his first appearance under Emery but didn't have a save to make, meaning he didn't really have an opportunity to impress. Gunnersaurus would've kept a clean sheet in this one.
DF Carl Jenkinson, 5 -- Finally got to play in his natural right-back position and showed good positioning throughout against a toothless attack. Made a couple of good forays forward, but couldn't quite get his crosses on target.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 -- Made a perfectly-timed sliding challenge to deny Qarabag their only sniff of goal in the first half. One of the few players whose intensity didn't seem to drop on the night.
DF Laurent Koscielny, 6 -- Finally back from a torn Achilles tendon, the Frenchman played his first game in 225 days. Was hardly tested but his return gives the whole team a boost.
DF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 6 -- The utility man started the game at left-back and finished it on the right wing, showing his versatility once again. Composed on the ball throughout but did nothing out of the ordinary.
MF Joe Willock, 5 -- Grew into the game after a slightly shaky start but had a quiet night and didn't really find room to express himself.
MF Mohamed Elneny, 5 -- Neat and tidy on the ball as always and helped solidify the midfield. That said, offered little in terms of creativity even against such listless opposition and is simply too one-dimensional to be a regular.
MF Mesut Ozil, 5 -- Back after a month out with back spasms, he was playing in a game he would normally be rested for. Showed flashes of brilliance with nifty back-heels and a good assist for Lacazette, but played much of the game at a walking pace.
FW Eddie Nketiah, 7 -- Did well to win the ball back several times in Arsenal's attacking third, including in the build-up to Lacazette's opener. Arsenal's most lively player in the second half and had a well-taken header ruled out for offside.
FW Bukayo Saka, 6 -- Looked full of confidence at the start when he tested the goalkeeper with a curling shot from the edge of the area, but drifted out of the game for large stretches after that. Should have scored late on but hit his shot straight at Vagner.
FW Alexandre Lacazette, 6 -- Took his only chance clinically but was fairly anonymous after that --although his teammates didn't exactly create much for him.
DF Zech Medley, 6 -- Came on at left-back for his second Arsenal appearance, but like the rest of the team's defenders he didn't have much to do.
MF Nacho Monreal, N/R -- Replaced Koscielny for the last 20 minutes, helping the team see the game out without any problems.
MF Charlie Gilmour, N/R -- Made a late cameo for his second Arsenal appearance, and first at the Emirates.