30 October 2020 00:34
Nicolas Pepe has been directly involved in six goals for Arsenal in the Europa League in eight appearances - three goals and three assists Arsenal's squad players impressed boss Mikel Arteta as they eventually broke Dundalk's resistance to win their Europa League group game at Emirates Stadium. Eddie Nketiah pounced from close range to give the Gunners the lead and Joe Willock blasted a shot into the roof of the net 125 seconds later. Nicolas Pepe's brilliant effort from the edge of the box seconds after the restart killed the game off. "We gave a chance to a lot of players who haven't played many minutes this season and it is something really positive because they showed they are well-prepared, they are at it, and they are ready when we need them," Arteta said. It was a stark contrast to Spurs boss Jose Mourinho's criticism of his fringe players as Arsenal's north London rivals lost 1-0 to Royal Antwerp.
Arsenal - who had never faced a side from the Republic of Ireland before - have now won both their opening Europa League games, while Dundalk have lost both of theirs. Dundalk made a bit of history as the first team in the 10 years of the Europa League not to commit a single foul in a game. As a result Shkodran Mustafi, making his first start since July, began in a back three along with midfielder Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac, who is usually a left-back but has played in the centre for Arsenal several times. But they all had a quiet day - Dundalk only had two touches in Arsenal's box - and it was the hosts' fringe forwards who took their chance. It took 33 minutes for the Gunners to have a shot on target, with Kolasinac's header tipped over the bar by Gary Rogers.
Dundalk's run to the Europa League group stage has come despite domestic struggles. They have won only three of 11 League of Ireland games since the restart, losing their title to Shamrock Rovers, and are not certain of a European place next year. Shane Keegan, the club's opposition analyst, was named as manager for the game in the Uefa team sheet - but Giovagnoli appeared on the touchline for the game. They had the opening chance with Patrick McEleney's long-range effort after three minutes tipped around the post by Runarsson. The Lilywhites defended resolutely for 40 minutes but Arsenal's opening two goals came from their mistakes and there was no way back after that. Giovagnoli said: "I want to congratulate my team and all the players for the way they collaborated defensively, their focus and everything. Several players were withdrawn with Sunday's league game against St Patrick's Athletic in mind. Nketiah scores, Arsenal win - match stats Arsenal have lost just one of their 13 games in cup competitions under Mikel Arteta (W10 D2), a 2-1 defeat against Olympiakos in February. Arsenal have won all nine games in which Eddie Nketiah has found the back of the net (10 goals). Goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson is the first Icelandic player to appear for Arsenal since Olafur Ingi Skulason against Wolves in December 2003 in the League Cup. A routine win for Arsenal was settled by a piece of play that was anything but routine. Nicolas Pepe elevated affairs in this 3-0 win over a resolute Dundalk with a sumptuous goal, that gave a tantalising glimpse of the player Mikel Arteta would like him to be. That is the real value of games like this, as Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock both added to their tallies for the clubs. For Dundalk, the recently deposed Irish champions, it is generally about the prestige of such a stage - not to mention the value of the prize money - but they had the misfortune of drawing a game like this at a time like this. It said much that, by early on in the second half, they were taking off one of their best players in Chris Shields for a crucial game against St Patrick's Athletic at the weekend. Nketiah celebrates his goal vs Dundalk (Getty) There is a thin line for clubs like Dundalk in these games, which is why they tend to have to prioritise quite a thick line at the back. The first proper breakthrough didn't really come from any play, but from a block, as the ball bounced back across the box to sit up kindly for Nketiah just yards out. Willock celebrates his goal vs Dundalk (AFP) Gary Rogers - who had been the penalty hero in the Europa League qualifier away to Sheriff Tiraspol to basically ensure Dundalk got this far - fumbled a corner, allowing Nketiah to quickly make amends by prodding in from even closer. A touch at the edge of the box put in Joe Willock, who thrashed the ball into the roof of the net. It looked like it could have been an avalanche as Arsenal claimed another just after half-time - and their third in four minutes of football. ESPN FC's Shaka Hislop wonders if Dele Alli's confidence took another hit against Antwerp in the Europa league. After being named in Jose Mourinho's line-up with the likes of Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min rested, Gareth Bale and Dele Alli disappointed in a poor display that saw Tottenham beaten 1-0 by Antwerp in Group J of the Europa League. The only goal of the game came after 29 minutes when Ben Davies, playing his 200th game for Tottenham, was caught in possession by Dieumerci Mbokani. Jose Mourinho made a quadruple substitution at half-time--Son was among those come on, with Alli one of the players withdrawn--but more slack play from Spurs gave the hosts a chance to double their lead early in the second period. Bale lasted just under an hour in his second start since returning to Tottenham on loan from Real Madrid and he was replaced by Kane as Mourinho played his final bench card with more than a third of the game remaining.