Arsenal last night maintained their 100 per cent record in the Europa League competition by beating Qarabag 3 -0. Arsenal under Unai Emery controlled the game, which was executed with resistance. Interestingly, Arsenal’s academy product and 18-year-old Emile Smith Rowe made all the difference judging by his performance. The young lad scored his first professional football goal for Arsenal.
Going forward, it does appear so much is expected of this talented attacking midfielder – it’s not hard to see why. After Jack Wilshere’s emotional farewell in the summer, the position as the Arsenal academy’s golden boy is vacant. In Smith Rowe, the Gunners may have found the air to Wilshere’s throne. The fact manger Unai Emery trusts the youngster at such an early stage of his development speaks bundles. As does the fact Arsenal have now won eight consecutive games. Slowly, Emery’s reign is taking shape. With six points out of six in the Europa League, his side look a safe bet to qualify for next year’s knockout stages.
But come Sunday, pundits may not bet against them making it nine in nine against Fulham. But Arsenal’s evening against Qarabag got off to a flier; Sokratis bundling home after Nacho Monreal’s flicked header from Mohamed Elneny’s corner sparked chaotic scenes in Qarabag’s defence. Having cruised to victory in their first Europa League outing of the season against Vorskla Poltava, the pace of Arsenal’s start here in Azerbaijan pointed to another comfortable evening. Had Smith Rowe finished a move he started at the back post in the 18th minute then it could easily have ended up a cricket score.
Instead, Arsenal were fired to endure an entirely uncomfortable first half as the hosts drew strength from the vociferous home crowd in search of an equalizer. First, Mahir Madatov was denied by Bernd Leno after bamboozling Sead Kolasinac – who was making his first appearance after a long-term knee injury – before Filip Ozobic saw his fierce effort stopped by the German. And then, just seconds before the break, Maksim Medvedev – for a moment – had the Olympic Stadium in a frenzy as he rippled the side netting. It was all very concerning for Emery in his technical area. It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.
Indeed, the Arsenal manager reverted to his favoured back-four, after starting the game with a three-man defence, for the start of the second half. Yet, Arsenal remained on the ropes; the Spaniard’s heart in his mouth four minutes after the restart when Madatov slid the ball past Leno only for the effort to be ruled out for offside. Eventually it took a teenager to ease Arsenal’s nerves, yet the composure of the finish defied Smith-Rowe’s tender age. Alex Iwobi – another Hale End graduate – set up Smith Rowe who kept calm to coolly pass the ball past Vagner to double Arsenal’s lead before Matteo Guendouzi completed the scoring for Arsenal in the 80th minute.