Vorskla Poltava no match for Aubameyang and Arsenal
The Europa League holds a special place in Unai Emery’s heart given he has won it twice
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after scoring against Vorskla Poltava. Photograph: Henry Browne/Getty Images
Arsenal 4 Vorskla Poltava 2
Owing to a quirk in the rules so outmoded it has been abolished, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not allowed to play a single minute of Europa League football last season after his mid-season move from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal. They needed him then but he needed the Europa League now.
The striker has been in indifferent form so far, but a run-out against Vorskla Poltava gave him all the time and space he needed to get his mojo back.
The Europa League holds a special place in Unai Emery’s heart given he has won it twice, and although the path to the final is a long stretch, the Arsenal manager took this opening group game seriously enough to pick a strong team against a side fifth in Ukraine. Although heavily rotated from the team who won at Newcastle, Arsenal were still loaded with seasoned internationals.
It was a chance to make an impression, to nudge Emery and state a claim to be involved in the Premier League. Bernd Leno’s debut was of particular interest, with Petr Cech’s jitters adapting to the new system that demands playing the ball out from the back. Although there was always a likelihood his evening would be spent mostly in an observer’s role, without too many tests, he did look generally relaxed and confident distributing the ball forwards crisply.
Lucas Torreira, consistently impressive in his cameos since joining from Sampdoria, made his first start as well. It remains puzzling the Uruguayan had not been chosen to start a game as his ability to track back and orchestrate play with a quick, searching pass is a quality Arsenal do not really have the luxury to sideline.
Against Vorskla’s deep and compact set up, Arsenal initially struggled to create anything convincing, forced to pass the ball around searching for gaps. After half an hour running up deadends, Arsenal eased through the gears and pounced. Vorskla were on the attack when they lost possession in peculiar fashion – Dmytro Kravchenko sold himelf a dummy as he feinted to let the ball past and it went straight to Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
Mkhitaryan charged forwards and picked out Alex Iwobi, who noticed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang switching on the afterburners. The striker, a surprise starter in this particular fixture, steered the ball across the goalkeeper and into the far corner of the net. First shot on target, first goal.
Arsenal might have taken a healthier lead into the break. Torreira belted a free-kick into the side netting. Aubameyang went tantalisingly close, bending the ball sweetly only to see it clip the base of the far post. Mkhitaryan then swivelled to force a good save from the Vorskla keeper.
Arsenal had the smell for more goals. Mkhitaryan and Iwobi combined and Danny Welbeck timed his run to arrive at the right place at the right time and gently nod in a second.
Vorskla were wilting now, and Arsenal looked capable of carving open a chance at any moment. Aubameyang, who has found freedom hard to come by this season, began to enjoy the space.
One scorching run set up Welbeck to prod just wide, before a balletic attempt caught the eye. There was time for one more intervention before he was substituted at the end of a positive night’s work, another goal, crafted with a little help from his ally Mkhitaryan and finished with curling finesse.
Down on the bench Alexandre Lacazette slunk into his seat, increasingly horizontal, perhaps a bit glum because he would have loved the chance to plunder some easy pickings which were ripe for the taking. Mesut Özil came on instead and helped himself to a fourth by deftly turning in Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross.
Emile Smith-Rowe got the chance to come on and get some first-team minutes and his first task was to halt a rare Vorskla attack. In the closing stages the section of away supporters relished their moment in the spotlight when Vlodymyr Chesnakov robbed Lichtsteiner to lash the ball ferociously past Leno.
All in all, though, a comfortable night’s work for Arsenal and Aubameyang.