Dundalk take away the positives as Arsenal leave with the points

Failings that have dogged Europa League campaign on show again at the Aviva

Dundalk 2 Arsenal 4

Mikel Arteta would surely settle for more games like this in the Premier League right now but in a week when they won the cup after extra time, there was certainly enough here too to send Dundalk into the close season happy.

Shane Keegan described it afterwards as "a madcap" reflection of the season the club has had but he was clearly pleased and like Pat McEleney beside him he seemed to believe that the campaign as a whole can be viewed as having turned out well enough in the end.

Here, the problem was essentially the same as it had been through the rest of this group campaign, they were up against a better team but that is not necessarily supposed to be fatal and their approach certainly suggested they didn’t believe it needed to be. Sadly, though, their recent knack for gifting goals to their opponents was in evidence again and that is pretty much bound to be lethal at this level.


To be fair, getting another two against a club of Arsenal’s calibre is a testament to the quality of their attacking game, although Keegan suggested that the fact that they have outscored around a third of 64 teams in the group stage, is something of a double-edged sword.

“I don’t know whether that’s a positive or a negative,” he said. “There are positive elements to it but it does also draw attention to the fact that we have conceded too many goals in the Europa League and in the domestic league. I’m not laying the blame for that solely at the feet of the defenders but we need to improve defensively before next season and I have absolutely no doubt that we will.”

Their goals here, one from the play, the other a set piece, were of the highest quality. Jordan Flores did especially well for the first, initially rescuing an enterprising move that had seemed set to break down, then playing a quick exchange with Michael Duffy before pushing on past Shkrodran Mustafi and planting a shot just inside the far post.

The visitors looked a little shocked by the concession which was understandable. Their hosts had made it clear from the kick-off that they were keen to take the game to their opponents whenever possible but their most explored route to goal had been the repeated attempt to play Seán Gannon in behind Ainsley Maitland-Niles, which never really came to anything and suggested a rough night in store for the home side.

Instead, they pulled that one back and could have been level by the break with Darragh Leahy ’s effort that looked goal bound deflected over.

Arsenal retained overall control, though, and a close-range strike from Joe Willock, after Dundalk's defence switched off and the power of the shot helped it to squeeze under Gary Rogers, seemed to settle things.

With the outcome clear it seemed at that stage, Duffy and McEleney were replaced in a double substitution that would have had a home crowd on its feet and 19-year-old James Wynne got a run out on a very big stage. Having already brought on Folarin Balogun, Arteta responded by upping the teenager ante with Ben Cottrell and then 18-year-old Miguel Azeez both handed their senior debuts. Balogun underlined his considerable promise with a goal to go with an earlier assist.

“We haven’t managed to change the fact that we finished the group with no points which is disappointing,” acknowledged Keegan, but it’s a dressingroom of fellas who are quite happy with the performance that they put in tonight.”

McEleney admitted that the step-up has been “tough” but suggested that the players had exceptional character to come through the club’s mid-season troubles and would be back again stronger next year. Work on nailing down the contracts required for that, Keegan confirmed, would resume in the coming days. This, though, really wasn’t a bad end to a good week and a campaign McEleney says must be judged “a success”.

DUNDALK: Rogers; Hoare, Boyle (Gartland, half-time), Clearly; Gannon (Mountney, 54 mins), Shields, Flores, Leahy; McEleney (Colvic, 77 mins), McMillan (Kelly, 54 mins), Duffy (Wynne, 77 mins).

ARSENAL: Runarsson; Chambers, Mustafi, Pablo Mari; Cedric, Smith-Rowe (Cottrell, 78 mins), Elneny (Ceballos, 63 mins), Willock (Azeez, 83 mins), Maitland-Niles; Pepe, Nketiah (Balogun, 63 mins).

Referee: I Bebek (Croatia).