Arsenal’s young guns go down in Cologne but still top their group

A lone penalty from Sehrou Guirassy was enough to separate the sides in Group H

Cologne’s Sehrou Guirassy scores the opening goal from the penalty spot during their Europa League win over Arsenal. Photo: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

Cologne’s Sehrou Guirassy scores the opening goal from the penalty spot during their Europa League win over Arsenal. Photo: Sascha Steinbach/EPA

 

Cologne 1 Arsenal 0

There is a limit to how much genuine disappointment Arsène Wenger will carry from Cologne after a flat performance and narrow Europa League defeat for his understudies. They are qualified as group winners, despite a going-through-the-motions 90 minutes with few redeeming features, and all the while his most valued personnel stayed at home with their feet up. This game was, bizarrely, more of a silver lining than a cloud.

At the end of the previous game with Red Star Belgrade, when qualification to the next round was ticked off, Wenger was asked how seriously he would take their remaining games, as potential influencers for the teams hoping to join Arsenal in the knock-out stage. Although he rang a wholesale change to the starting XI in Cologne after that feelgood derby win against Tottenham, this was actually a pretty experienced lineup. With eight full (or former) internationals and the rest capped at under-21 level, it was far from a team of rookies.

Still, that was no guarantee of an assured performance, and Arsenal managed to dominate possession and get picked off by a rare in Cologne break which led to the game’s decisive penalty.

Wenger was keen to give players on the fringes some competitive minutes, particularly in the case of a half for Danny Welbeck and a run in the unusual position of wing-back for Calum Chambers, both on the road back from spells out injured. The complication when fielding the second string, though, is a bit of rustiness, those missing fractions of instinct that come with players who are in the groove, can inhibit the overall quality of the game. Arsenal were mostly comfortable, but not particularly enthralling.

Opponents propping up the Bundesliga with two points gained all season were there for the taking for a relatively strong Arsenal. Still, Cologne, high on atmosphere yet low on confidence, had an early glimmer. Jhon Cordoba burst forwards, only for David Ospina to tip away his cross shot.

Arsenal were not at their most fluid, perhaps epitomised by the fact their most promising first-half chances fell to Francis Coquelin, who has never scored for the club. He thumped one from long range and another shot cracked against the near post. Ainsley Maitland-Niles played with a sense of adventure but there was not much happening.

Cologne took advantage of the torpor with a counter attack on the hour. Sehrou Guirassy cantered into the penalty area and tumbled after tangling legs with Mathieu Debuchy. It was on the soft side but the Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov awarded a penalty, which Guirassy took with composure, beating Ospina straight down the middle.

Jack Wilshere came close with a couple of opportunities, and Wenger introduced two of the younger prospects in Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah to try to inspire a more respectable result. Nelson danced into the box late on and forced a save from Timo Horn, a rare illuminating moment for the Arsenal attack. Horn then tipped away Wilshere’s slammed shot in stoppage time. No equaliser. No major problem.

Cologne enjoyed their moment, and Arsenal will presumably add quality for the Europa League knock-out stage. – Guardian service

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