Arsenal’s squad players impressed boss Mikel Arteta as they eventually broke Dundalk’s resistance to win their Europa League group game at Emirates Stadium. Eddie Nketiah pounced from close range to give the Gunners the lead and Joe Willock blasted a shot into the roof of the net 125 seconds later. Nicolas Pepe’s brilliant effort from the edge of the box seconds after the restart killed the game off. They cruised after that but could not add a fourth against the Irish side.
It was a stark contrast to Spurs boss Jose Mourinho’s criticism of his fringe players as Arsenal’s north London rivals lost 1-0 to Royal Antwerp. Arsenal – who had never faced a side from the Republic of Ireland before – have now won both their opening Europa League games, while Dundalk have lost both of theirs. Dundalk made a bit of history as the first team in the 10 years of the Europa League not to commit a single foul in a game. Arsenal handed a debut to Iceland goalkeeper Runar Alex Runarsson, a summer signing from Dijon, and he played behind a makeshift central defence. The Gunners have three centre-backs injured, including David Luiz, with another two not registered for the Europa League.
As a result Shkodran Mustafi, making his first start since July, began in a back three along with midfielder Granit Xhaka and Sead Kolasinac, who is usually a left-back but has played in the centre for Arsenal several times. But they all had a quiet day – Dundalk only had two touches in Arsenal’s box – and it was the hosts’ fringe forwards who took their chance. It took 33 minutes for the Gunners to have a shot on target, with Kolasinac’s header tipped over the bar by Gary Rogers. The breakthrough came seven minutes later. Rogers flapped at a corner which hit team-mate Daniel Cleary and Nketiah beat Brian Gartland to the loose ball to score from close range.
Two minutes later and the Gunners had control. A misplaced pass let Nketiah run forward. He found Pepe, who had an effort blocked, but Willock controlled the ball and blasted a shot into the roof of the net. It was only another couple of minutes of football later – albeit after the half-time break – when the best goal of the day came. Pepe got the ball on the edge of the box, rolled it away from a defender and smashed a perfect effort into the top corner. At that stage a rout looked likely but Dundalk held firm with Ainsley Maitland-Niles having the only effort on target after that.