Arsenal cruised to a 3-0 win over Dundalk in their Europa League clash to sit at the top of their group with two wins from two games.
The first 30-odd minutes were reasonably poor as Dundalk defended stoutly and Arsenal were not creating too many clear-cut chances for all the possession they had.
That all changed in the 42nd minute when Eddie Nketiah pounced on a loose ball to fire Arsenal in front. Two minutes later Joe Willock doubled the lead with a nicely taken goal. Nicolas Pepe put the game to bed if it was not already over just minutes after halftime with a splendid strike on the edge of the box to make it 3-0.
It was a game that Arsenal simply had to have after the Leicester defeat. It was a game where Arsenal could not gain anything but confidence but if Arsenal lost the world would have caved in around them. Thankfully, the result was never in any doubt as Arsenal cruised to a comfortable win.
For the entirety of the match Arsenal barely got out of first gear as Arsenal confidently knocked the ball around. Runar Runarsson was good in goal even if he had little to do. He was assured and confident and he would be happy with a debut clean sheet too.
Joe Willock and Reiss Nelson were two of the best players on the pitch. Both were positive and created chances at will. In total Arsenal had 25 shots on goal with only six hitting the target to Dundalk’s four shots and one on target.
Arsenal held the majority of possession, 63 per cent to Dundalk’s 37 per cent, however watching the game it did feel a lot more lopsided than that.
These are my takeaways from the clash.
Reiss Nelson was simply outstanding
He was man of the match and it is not even close. He was lively from the outset as he terrorised the Dundalk defence. Superb skill and making darting runs in behind were a feature of his game. The only thing missing from his performance was a goal. He deserves to play some part at Old Trafford next up. He was a ten out of ten. It was an impressive performance.
Joe Willock could be the creative force Arsenal need
I am not saying that he is the answer to Arsenal’s creative problems, but he does provide Arsenal with something different going forward. Like Nelson, he was among the best on the pitch with his power on the ball and silky feet. He put in a superb performance. After his output, he should – like Nelson – feature in some capacity against Manchester United.
The perfect game leading into Manchester United
As I mentioned before, this was just the tonic Arsenal needed heading to Old Trafford. It was a confident and assured performance with goals, good build-up play, and a clean sheet. Arsenal were never in any danger and it was good to see some of the fringe players get a chance to stake their claim and they did just that. Willian getting some important minutes on the pitch after coming back from injury was valuable too.
Granit Xhaka in the centre of defence?
He fitted in seamlessly and it suited him, although Arsenal’s opponents made it easy for him. He did what he had to do. He was the architect playing out from the back, spraying balls all over the pitch and he led the team brilliantly. There will be tougher tests, but it was an assured performance from the Swiss international.
Both Runarsson and Folarin Balogun made their debuts in what was a well-rounded performance as Arsenal sit on top of their group. Arsenal’s back-line troubles were highlighted when after the 61st minute Arsenal played with no recognised centre back as Shkodran Mustafi was substituted, so it will be interesting to see how Arsenal line up at Old Trafford.
All in all, it was a good night for Arsenal. It was a win, players got minutes, Arsenal kept a clean sheet, and scored three goals. Up next is a trip to face Manchester United and it shapes as a defining match in Arsenal’s young season.