Arsenal keep their cool in Kiev to make it 18 games unbeaten
Unai Emery’s much-changed side top group after comfortable win over Vorskla Poltava
Arsenal celebrate Emile Smith Rowe’s opener against Vorskla Poltava in Kiev. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters
FC Vorskla Poltava 0 Arsenal 3
Arsenal secured top spot in their Europa League group as a much-changed side coasted to a 3-0 Europa League victory against Vorskla Poltava in sub-zero Kiev.
The Group E fixture was moved 185 miles east of Poltava to the capital’s Olympic Stadium, with parts of Ukraine under martial law as political tensions with Russia continue to rise.
The call to relocate the game was made on Tuesday evening, with Vorskla particularly unhappy with Uefa’s decision and official confirmation that the match would take place at all not coming from the governing body until six hours before kick-off.
Any inconvenience for Unai Emery and his players did not show as youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Joe Willock scored either side of an Aaron Ramsey penalty to confirm a win in temperatures that dropped as low as minus 10 degrees.
The last English side to play in the Olympic Stadium were Liverpool as they lost last season’s Champions League final to Real Madrid but this contest — watched by a minimal crowd — was never going to live up to such an occasion.
Arsenal handed a first start to teenage striker Eddie Nketiah as Emery made 10 changes, with only Rob Holding retaining his place from Sunday’s Premier League win at Bournemouth.
Academy graduate Willock was also given a rare chance to impress as Ainsley Maitland-Niles started for the first time since the opening day of the season, while Petr Cech returned in goal to captain the Gunners.
It was Vorskla who crafted the first half-chance of the evening, Iurli Kolomoets firing over from an acute angle after latching onto a free-kick before Cech fumbled a long-range effort from Volodymyr Chesnakov as the nominal home side started brightly.
That early work was undone as Smith Rowe handed Arsenal an 11th-minute lead, turning home at the back-post after smart work from both Ramsey and Nketiah.
Ramsey doubled the advantage shortly before the half-hour mark as he won and converted a penalty — the Wales international going down after minimal contact from Vorskla defender Igor Perduta before coolly converting the spot-kick.
The points, and first place in the group, were sealed when Willock tucked home his first senior goal after latching onto Mohamed Elneny’s pass.
Nketiah drew a save out of Bohdan Shust at the start of the second half, with Smith Rowe seeing a second of the night eventually ruled out for offside after he turned home Stephan Lichtsteiner’s deflected cross.
Emery used the opportunity to blood more academy talent as Zech Medley, Bukayo Sako and Charlie Gilmour were introduced from the bench on a night where Arsenal got the job done despite all the uncertainty over the game.
Topping the group ensures the Gunners will be seeded for the round-of-32 draw and will face a runner-up from another Europa League group or one of the four sides with the worst records who drop down from the Champions League.