Arsenal’s three-goal blitz enough to see off Dundalk
Nicolas Pépé’s finish the pick of the bunch as gulf in class comes fully into focus in London
Arsenal’s Nicolas Pépé scores their third goal past Dundalk goalkeeper Gary Rogers during the Europa League Group B match at the Emirates Stadium. Photo: Tommy Dickson/Inpho
Arsenal 3 Dundalk 0
Filippo Giovagnoli seemed to think that the gulf between these two clubs was so obvious that it scarcely merited anyone getting into wages or any of the other traditional measures of footballing wealth and power before the game. During it, though, the Italian provided a pretty stark reminder of the scales of their respective ambitions when he replaced a key player or two during the second half with a view to having them in better shape for Sunday’s league visit to Inchicore to face St Pat’s. Mikel Arteta had simply started a different side with Manchester United in mind.
Dundalk left with considerable cause for pride in the way that they played for the best part of the night but they were also very well beaten. For 42 minutes they coped rather well defensively and generated a chance or two of their own, but goals just before half-time from Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock and one just after it from Nicolas Pépé ensured that the only real question through the tail end of the game was whether things might go severely downhill for them.
But they held their opponents off well through the latter part of the game with Giovagnoli observing afterwards that: “We did what we had to do. Arsenal are a fantastic team and we have to be realistic. We were competitive and we didn’t give up. We had the first opportunity in the game and I am happy with what the players did.”
He sounded more perplexed when it was put to him that despite the home side’s dominance, his own players had not committed a single foul. “Our team is so polite,” he said a slightly bemused grin. “They just work hard.”
Both he and Arteta made major changes, 10 in the case of the Arsenal manager from the loss to Leicester last weekend, and each sprang minor surprises in terms of formation with Dundalk ostensibly starting the game with three at the back, Arsenal five. But those were just opening gambits and Dundalk would end up having to get a lot of bodies back behind the ball for decent stretches of the night while their hosts looked increasingly comfortable to push all but one or two players forward .
The Irish champions seemed to settle into it well, looking rather relaxed about the Londoners having so much of the ball inside the half, and composed when the chance came to take possession and push forward themselves.
For quite a while a long range effort by Pat McEleney - the culmination of a move that included some fine passing and movement by Chris Shields and Michael Duffy as they pressed forward - represented the best chance of the game and had certainly drawn its best save with Runar Runarsson having to get down well to push the ball out wide for the corner.
Steadily, though, Arsenal’s grip on things grew. An increasing amount of the game seemed to be played around the edges of the Dundalk area and it was taking more of Giovagnoli’s players inside of it to keep the likes of Nketiah and Pépé at bay.
Between them all they did well enough to prevent Gary Rogers having to do all that much and so there will have been some frustration that, when the opening goal came, it was from a corner that the goalkeeper came for but failed to make contact with. Daniel Cleary got a touch he didn’t know much about just after that and, as Rogers and Brian Gartland both tried to get to the loose ball, Nketiah got a foot between them to poke the ball home.
Standard procedure in such situations is to get through the half’s remaining couple of minutes then look to go again after the break but Dundalk weren’t afforded the luxury of getting to regroup.
Having collectively dealt pretty with the pressure of being in possession as Arsenal’s players pressed them, Cameron Dummigan surrendered the ball to Nketiah far too easily as he sought to beat a bit a retreat from a couple of red shirts. Three of his teammates then converged in front of Pépé to block his shot and, though Andy Boyle managed it, the ricochet fell nicely to an entirely unmarked Willock who finished with terrific conviction.
When Pépé made it 3-0, with a wonderful strike from the edge of the area within seconds of the second half starting, it really did seem that things might become very comfortable for the visitors. The €79 million striker might have had another before departing and Arsenal may feel they should have had another couple by the end but Gartland and quite few others worked tirelessly to keep them at bay.
Giovagnoli must hope they recover from all the exertion in time for the meeting with St Pat’s as they are not yet sure of even qualifying for Europe again next year. “We were thinking about Sunday from the start,” he admitted afterwards. “We tried to test our opponents and I think we managed it but in the second we had to start to make changes for Sunday - that was our priority.”
Arsenal: Runarsson; Cedric, Mustafi (Ceballos, 61 mins), Xhaka (Tierney, 73 mins), Kolasinic, Maitland-Niles; Willock, Elneny; Pepe (Willian, 61, mins), Nketiah (Balogun, 73 mins), Nelson.
Dundalk: Rogers; Gartland, Boyle, Cleary (Hoare, 53 mins); Mountney, Murray (Sloggett, half-time), Shields (Gannon, 62 mins), McEleney (Flores, 53 mins), Dummigan; Hoban, Duffy (Colovic, 70 mins).
Referee: F Glova (Slovakia).