Experimental Arsenal side make light work of Bate Borisov

Jack Wilshere starred for the Londoners as Olivier Giroud netted 100th goal for the club

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, left, celebrates after scoring his side’s fourth goal during the Europa League group H soccer match between Bate and Arsenal at the Borisov-Arena stadium in Borisov, Belarus. Photo: Sergei Grits/AP Photo

Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, left, celebrates after scoring his side’s fourth goal during the Europa League group H soccer match between Bate and Arsenal at the Borisov-Arena stadium in Borisov, Belarus. Photo: Sergei Grits/AP Photo

 

Bate Borisov 2 Arsenal 4

To butcher a phrase Arsène Wenger coined many years ago, if you eat caviar every day, sometimes it is not so bad to return to sausages. After all those seasons of the Champions League, Arsenal have rather taken to life in the Europa League. It is not always easy to get the blend right with a reshuffled team, a mix of older pros who are perhaps not getting as much football as they want, and kids desperate for opportunities. Arsenal got stuck into their sausages and ended up having the better of a rollicking, bundles of chances, blast in Belarus.

There was always going to be a question of how seriously Arsenal take the group stage of this competition, and it is to the credit of the senior players chosen for this trip who did not take this game lightly. Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott are two of the club’s longest serving players and they created the platform to help Arsenal secure maximum points from their Europa League games so far. Olivier Giroud, another of the senior performers, slotted in his 100th goal for the club.

Part of the character of the Europa League experience is the chance to go off the beaten track and Arsenal’s first away trip took them to Borisov, the ninth largest place in Belarus. Nestled in the woods just on the outskirts a spaceship stadium is parked, full of rainbow colour and all mod-cons, which is home to its nation’s perennial champions.

With a host of first-team players left in London and spared the 2,500-mile round trip, Arsenal’s team leaned on the know-how of players with abundant experience – across the team they had a combined 400 international caps. The attacking trio, with Wilshere excelling and Walcott darting around just behind Giroud, posed a challenge Bate could not handle. It was just as well the front men produced as their defenders had numerous ragged moments of their own in a very open game.

Walcott could have opened the scoring in the seventh minute when he latched on to Wilshere’s cleverly threaded through ball only to squeeze his shot against the near post. The same pair combined two minutes later to make sure. More creative finery from Wilshere picked out Walcott, who finished with a neat header.

Arsenal added another couple in a three-minute burst midway through the first half. Bate’s last line of defence, Denis Scherbitski, dropped an exceptional clanger, popping the ball straight to Walcott who drilled in past the stricken keeper. Arsenal turned the screw as Rob Holding looked ecstatic to shin in the third from a corner.

Leading with confidence made the occasion one to relish for the youngsters given a chance to pick up the experience of a European away match. Wenger’s faith in youth was interesting, especially as all three rookies played in midfield – the heartland packed in this case with inexperienced promise. At 18 years old, Joe Willock was granted a first start for Arsenal in the centre alongside Mohamed Elneny, with the 17-year-old Reiss Nelson and the 20-year-old Ainsley Maitland-Niles playing the wider wing-back roles. All three looked comfortable and offered flashes of their ability.

Wenger had challenged the youngsters that “you do not get 10 opportunities to play for Arsenal”. There is a fine balance between seizing a chance to express yourself and playing safe to avoid making any mistakes. On this evidence they passed the test.

Bate’s last opponents, FC Slutsk (ground capacity 1,896) give an example of the gap needed to adapt to European opponents. That said, they managed to rouse themselves despite the deficit. Mirko Ivanic took advantage of some soft Arsenal defending to head in a goal acclaimed joyously by the home crowd. David Ospina had to spring to bat away from Stanislav Dragun and keep his concentration to smother another Ivanic shot.

Bate’s enthusiasm tilted into excess when Nemanja Milunovic, having been fouled by Willock, swung an arm and caught the youngster. It could have been a red card but the referee did not dole out any punishment. Arsenal continued peppering the Bate goal, Walcott going close and Holding striking a post.

The fourth came early in the second half after a generous penalty decision. Up stepped Giroud to place his shot to the goalkeeper’s right. His century of Arsenal goals was taken cooly.

Bate kept pushing in search of more goals of their own, and they scored another to cherish when Mikhail Gordeichuk rifled in from close range. Opsina had to be alert to punch away moments later. Alexandr Volodko crashed a shot wide. Somehow Arsenal were in danger of snatching anxiety from the jaws of a comfortable victory. They saw out the game, and headed home and back to the Premier League. A difficult week to manage has so far been handled well.

(Guardian service)

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