The Gunners welcomed back 2,000 supporters to the Emirates for the Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna game and at least, we could all look forward to some genuine crowd noises instead of the recorded loop with some poor guy charged with pressing the booing and cheering buttons.
I’m not sure if this recorded piffle has had any impact on Arsenal’s recent performances, but I don’t mind clutching at straws this early in a poor season. The good news was the return of Spanish centre-back Pablo Mari, who may yet provide a solid partnership with Gabriel, but the bad and more uncomfortable news was the inclusion of Shkodran Mustafi and Sead Kolasinac.
As if Mikel Arteta wasn’t under enough pressure with results, he decided to promote two players to the first team who have performed so poorly on so many occasions, just so that he could increase his chances of a fan backlash. There is at least some light at the end of the tunnel because both must surely be destined to leave in the summer with Barcelona interested in Mustafi and at least two clubs keen on the Bosnian defender.
Elsewhere, Pepe was given another chance to persuade us all that £72m was cheap and Eddie Nketiah got another chance to assure us that he could replace Aubameyang or Lacazette permanently. Lacazette assumed the role of a number ten to find a position where he could inflict damage and Maitland-Niles finally got a run-out.
If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t exactly crazy about the team selection for the Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna game, it had a whiff of the ordinary about it. Runarsson, Cedric, Mustafi, Pablo Mari, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Nelson, Elneny, Pepe, Lacazaette, Nketiah.
I thought Arteta might try a few different players with the North London Derby looming at the weekend but apart from Maitland-Niles and Nelson, it was a fairly uninspiring assortment. The bench looked far more intriguing with the likes of Saka, Azeez, Balogun, and Smith Rowe and one hoped that all four would get a run out for the second half.
Arsenal’s form in the Europa League is decent enough and is in complete contrast to their Premiership shenanigans where goals are like lottery wins. Alexandre Lacazette has had a bewildering season in that respect. He scored in consecutive games, was dropped whilst in form, then reinstated only to find that he couldn’t find the net with a map.
Here at the Emirates, he looked a different player as Arsenal continued their good fortune in the Europa League. Ten minutes in and Lacazette scorched the net with a blistering shot from around 30 yards as the Gunners came out of the traps quickly to dominate the Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna game. The wicked swerve completely bamboozled Richard Strebinger as he resembled a man who had been picked off with a sniper’s rifle, going back with an outstretched arm whilst rotating in mid air.
The players milked the applause of real fans like they’d won the game and the trophy, such was the uniqueness of having real supporters present again and who could blame them. Then Arsenal had attempt after attempt on goal with the born again Pepe going close and Mustafi missing by a whisker. Pablo Mari, who must surely be in with a strong chance of a start at White Hart Lane, headed in from a Reiss Nelson corner (18).
Such was Arsenal’s dominance that they probably had 75-80% of the possession in the first half and the players were taking it in turns to try their luck on goal. Pepe continued to show a new and improved attitude in an Arsenal shirt by driving forward, rattling the defence, and generally causing mass panic in the rapid ranks every time the ball fell at his feet. Eddie Nketiah added the third before half time (44), showing that even though he’s still not everyone’s first choice striker, he knows where the net is.
In the second half, Arsenal were guilty of complacency with Koya Kitagawa volleying in after Kolasinac had valiantly cleared off the line twice. Willian, Ceballos, Balogun, Smith Rowe, and Chambers entered the action as the inevitable flood of substitutions began and Smith Rowe did himself no harm by adding a fourth after replacing Lacazette (66).
Arsenal had flair, pace, creativity, and swagger but it was against a side who flattered them and had little purpose but then again, you can only beat what’s in front of you, there are stiffer challenges ahead including this weekend.
There were several good performances including Lacazette, Pepe, Nelson, and Maitland-Niles. AMN deserves more of a mention because he has been ignored and overlooked by Arteta frequently, but he came in with a point to prove and drop a reminder that he can get in the box as well as anyone.
He could have had two goals himself but in general, he looked purposeful and even set up a grateful Smith Rowe, capping a quite remarkable performance given his lack of opportunities. Has he done enough to shade a spot in the NLD? I’m not sure but I’d give him a start as I would with Nelson, who could eventually become a great player for the club.
The smattering of fans went home happy on a wet and bitter evening at the end of a decent 90-minute performance by Arsenal. That was the best thing about the Arsenal vs Rapid Vienna game and hopefully, it won’t be long until we all get to join in.