The Gunners advanced to the round of 16 thanks to a fantastic long-range strike from the unfavorable Kieran Tierney. On Thursday night, Arsenal advanced as group champions to the knockout stages of the Europa League with a tense 1-0 victory over. Although it wasn’t as easy as wanted, the task was nevertheless completed.
After Tierney’s superb long-range goal gave the Gunners the lead in the first half, they had to endure some nervous minutes when they were unable to score a second. With PSV winning at Bodo/Glimt, a goal from Zurich would have dropped Mikel Arteta’s club to second place in the group and forced them into a round-of-32 play-off against a team relegating from the Champions League.
And as the hosts struggled to capitalize on their lead throughout a sloppy second half, there was undoubtedly a lot of anxiety in the air. With 20 minutes left, Zurich even managed to put the ball in the back of the net, but Adrian Guerrero’s close-range effort was rightfully disallowed for offside. However, Arsenal did manage to cling on for the victory, which enabled them to lead the group and escape additional games later in the season.
The Performing Side:
Kieran Tierney: Tierney has had a difficult season thus far after seeing himself drop in Arsenal’s pecking order. Oleksandr Zinchenko, a summer acquisition, initially took his position at left-back, and later, after the Ukrainian sustained an injury, Takehiro Tomiyasu was favored ahead of him. So when he gave Arsenal the lead with a thunderous half-volley in the first half, you could see the Scotland international release the frustration he had been holding in. Prior to Sunday’s vital Premier League trip to Chelsea, Mikel Arteta received a timely reminder of Tierney’s strengths. Tierney was a constant menace down the left flank.
Mohamed Elneny: By no means was this a brilliant performance, but Arteta and Arsenal both benefited greatly from the fact that he was back on the field. Elneny may not be one of the stars of the Arsenal team, but he is a crucial backup who can replace players like Thomas Partey and Granit Xhaka and reduce their burden. Due to a hamstring injury, Sambi Lokonga has been out of action since August. His return to action now allows him to play in the slightly more advanced midfield position where he feels more at home. Elneny was replaced after 63 minutes of use. He’ll be welcomed back with open arms by Arteta.
Mikel Arteta: The manager of Arsenal will be thrilled with the outcome even though he was presumably not happy with his team’s performance. To win the group and receive a bye straight to the round of 16 in the knockout stages, Arteta was frantic. And the 1-0 victory made sure of that, giving Arsenal two fewer games to worry about in the hectic schedule that followed the World Cup.
If the Gunners had placed second, they would have faced a team that had been promoted from the Champions League in a two-legged matchup in February. But now that the Gunners can relax and not worry about the Europa League until March, Arteta will benefit greatly as he works to preserve his players’ fitness levels throughout the vital season’s final stretch following the new year.
The Losing Side:
Gabriel Jesus: Jesus’ early introduction gave off the impression that it was done solely to stop the striker’s goalless streak before Sunday’s match at Chelsea. Jesus tried his best, but he was unable to break the streak that dates back to the victory over Tottenham in the North London Derby on October 1. He had opportunities, as he always does, but each time he was stopped by a great defensive play or a superb save from goalie Yanick Brecher.
Jesus has gone eight games in all competitions without scoring. The good news for Arsenal is that he is still making an impact, as evidenced by his two assists against Nottingham Forest. But Arteta will still be anxious to get his prized summer acquisition back on the scoresheet as soon as possible.
Eddie Nketiah: Nketiah, who has struggled following a promising start to his group stage campaign, had another difficult night. Being forced to start on the left side of the attack in a few of the games, including tonight, hasn’t helped, but he would have still liked to have had a bigger influence.
He came close to scoring in the first half, but Brecher stopped his header, and aside from that, he never really seemed to threaten the Zurich goal. Nketiah has had the chance to put pressure on the Brazilian because Jesus is now having trouble scoring goals, but he hasn’t taken it.
Fabio Vieria: Vieira, like Nketiah, had a strong start to his group stage campaign, but he hasn’t been able to keep up that strong play. He got into some good spots versus Zurich, as evidenced by the fact that he had four shots on goal in the 73 minutes that he played.
However, he struggled to finish, with one botched attempt at a magnificent volley serving as the highlight of his evening. Although Vieira is still young and has displayed some great quality since moving from Porto in the summer, there is obviously a long way to go before he can begin competing with players like Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard for a regular starting position.
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