Arsenal 3-0 Dundalk FC
After standing firm for 40 minutes, Dundalk were undone by a flurry of quickfire goals in north London on Thursday night as Arsenal showed their class with a 3-0 win that puts them top of UEFA Europa League Group B.
The Lilywhites dealt with everything their illustrious hosts threw at them for the vast majority of the first half but a couple of lapses in concentration saw Filippo Giovagnoli’s men cough up two quickfire goals before the break.
Nicolas Pepe’s wonderful third goal illustrated the gulf in class but Dundalk, who were led brilliantly by Andy Boyle and Brian Gartland in particular, stubbornly refused to concede a fourth and Giovagnoli’s men left London with their pride intact ahead of a trip to Austria to face Rapid Wien on MD3.
As expected, the Premier League side bossed play but the first effort on goal came from the side in black with five minutes played. Chris Shields and Michael Duffy combined well in the build-up to set up Patrick McEleney who forced Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson to tip the ball wide of his upright.
Cédric Soares and Pepe both fired well over the top and with a quarter of an hour played, Dundalk looked comfortable in their vast surroundings. Alarm bells were ringing, however, three minutes later when the impressive Joe Willock found space on the inside right but his ball across the face of goal evaded any red shirts.
Mikel Arteta’s side continued to try and prize the Lilywhites open and Gary Rogers was forced into a couple of saves in quick succession, tipping a Sead Kolasinac header over his bar before gathering a Willock drive from a central area.
It looked like the Lilywhites would get to the break on level terms but two quickfire goals in the space of three minutes put the Gunners firmly in the driving seat at the interval.
The first was self-inflicted, Eddie Nketiah forcing the ball home from close range in the 42nd minute after a Rogers punch bounced off the back of Daniel Cleary, and Willock left the Lilywhites with a mountain to climb when he hit the roof of the net after Pepe’s shot deflected kindly into his path just two minutes later.
Pepe did get on the scoresheet when he curled a sumptuous effort into the top corner just 30 seconds after the restart, a goal worth every penny of the 72 million that the Ivory Coast international cost from Lille in the summer of 2019.
Greg Sloggett was introduced at the break and Giovagnoli was forced into a further reshuffle just eight minutes into the second half when Jordan Flores and Sean Hoare came on for the injured McEleney and Daniel Cleary respectively. With a vital league game against St Patrick’s Athletic to come on Sunday, the sight of the Derryman limping off with a groin injury was a major concern.
Despite forcing Dundalk back for the remainder of the game, Arsenal couldn’t add a fourth and the Lilywhites, who went through the 90 minutes without conceding a single foul – a Europa League record – can take a lot of heart from their performance against one of the finest sides in England.
ARSENAL: Rúnar Alex Rúnarsson; Cédric Soares, Shkodran Mustafi (Dani Ceballos 61), Sead Kolašinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Joe Willock, Mohamed Elneny, Granit Xhaka (Kieran Tierney 73); Reiss Nelson, Eddie Nketiah (Folarin Balogun 73), Nicolas Pépé (Willian 61). Subs not used: Bernd Leno (GK), Karl Jakob Hein, Hector Bellerín, Gabriel, Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Thomas Partey.
DUNDALK FC: Gary Rogers; Daniel Cleary (Sean Hoare 53), Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle; John Mountney, Sean Murray (Greg Sloggett HT), Patrick McEleney (Jordan Flores 53), Chris Shields (Sean Gannon 62), Cameron Dummigan; Michael Duffy (Stefan Colovic 70); Patrick Hoban. Subs not used: Aaron McCarey (GK), Darragh Leahy, Nathan Oduwa, Daniel Kelly, David McMillan, Jimmy Corcoran (GK).
REFEREE: Filip Glova (Slovakia).