I have to say I missed European football last season, the gap between games was too much at times, but last night’s win over FC Zurich was a reminder that the Europa League group stages aren’t exactly the best bit about this competition.
The 2-1 win is not a game many will be looking to re-live, the result goes down in the history books and we move onto the next one. That said, there might well be one person in particular who will remember this as a special night, and for 19 year old debutant Marquinhos it was definitely that.
He was one of a number of changes Mikel Arteta made to his side, also handing a debut to goalkeeper Matt Turner, a first start for summer signing Fabio Vieira, as well as starts for Eddie Nketiah, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Rob Holding. We didn’t start well. A poor pass – and a poor decision to make that pass – from Turner handed the home side a chance to go ahead, and from the subsequent corner after Holding had cleared at the near post, the American keeper flapped unconvincingly. He grew into the game after that, but those opening minutes were a bit dodgy.
After that though, Arsenal got on top and stayed on top. We dominated possession, played most of the game in their half – often camped outside the final third – and Marquinhos provided a fantastic ball for Gabriel Martinelli who headed wide with the goal at his mercy. The younger of the two Brazilian attackers made his mark soon after though, after an excellently weighted ball from Vieira sent Eddie Nketiah away down the left, the striker squared it and Marquinhos finished coolly into the top corner.
His emotional response to the goal was really quite lovely, you could see how much it meant to him, and perhaps if Arsenal had made a signing before the end of the window he might not even have been on the pitch, so fair play for taking his opportunity.
There were other chances for Vieira and Xhaka, but it wasn’t entirely one way traffic. At the other end Holding and Tierney had to make important blocks, but Arsenal should have made more of their dominance. And just before the break we paid the price for that. Eddie fouled a Zurich man in our box (it was perhaps a little soft, but I’d 100% have wanted it up the other end), and a penalty drew the sides level at half-time.
We began the second half brightly. Martinelli, Eddie and Tomiyasu all had efforts on goal, and Martinelli could have provided a chance for Nketiah but chose to shoot instead. The striker was set up by the man on the other side though, a very nicely weighted cross from Marquinhos found him at the back post, and his header down into the ground went in and turned out to be the winner. I can remember a couple of games last season when he had chances not dissimilar to that and didn’t make the most of them, so it was pleasing to see him put that one away.
At that point, it became one of those paint-by-numbers early Europa League group stage games. Both sides made changes, we could possibly have scored again based on how much of the ball we had, but with a one goal lead there’s always a bit of nervousness. Late on Holding and Gabriel found one of their subs a bit tough to deal with in the air, but in the end we hung on to take all three points to kick off our European season with a win.
Not a classic by any means, but it was good to see Vieira out there, and his technical quality is obvious. I winced a couple of times when he was on the receiving end of some heavy kicks which he obviously felt – perhaps that ankle injury he arrived with is still a bit painful. However, you can see what kind of a player he is and what he might bring as and when he settles in further.
Eddie got a goal and an assist on his first start of the season, making up for the penalty concession, and while we have to take the opposition into account a bit, Marquinhos with the same amount of end product on his Arsenal debut will give him plenty of confidence. The reality of our squad right now is that he is needed, perhaps even at times in the Premier League, so to contribute what he did will be very useful for him.
Right, let’s leave it there for this morning. There will be an Arsecast today, but with the time of the game, and the fact that I have a post-surgery dog to take care of it won’t be until later on this afternoon. For those asking about Lana, she’s sore and sad – which is to be expected after such a big operation – but hopefully with plenty of medicine and TLC, she’ll be brighter and better day by day.
Pod should be out late afternoon or thereabouts. Bye for now.