Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang celebrates after putting Arsenal in front
A brace from from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and two more from Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil helped Arsenal to a 4-2 win as they overcame a well-organised Vorskla Poltava in their opening UEFA Europa League clash.
In front of a sparse crowd at The Emirates, the Gunners took their time to get going, not helped by an atmosphere that would have barely stirred a sleeping kitten.
But two early second-half goals put the Gunners on cruise control as they got their Group E campaign off to the best possible start.
However, it was hard going in the first period. Clear-cut chances were few and far between as Arsenal struggled to break down a Ukrainian side that kept a disciplined defensive shape.
Alex Iwobi, who was bar far Arsenal’s most threatening player on the night, made an early run through the middle and Vorskla keeper Bohdan Shust had to come charging out of his box to make a diving header to clear.
Iwobi then attacked the full-back before whipping in a cross that Aubameyang almost got to. On the rare occasions the Gunners did threaten, the Ukrainian side were uncompromising and Vyacheslav Sharpar received a yellow card after a hefty challenge on Mohamed Elneny.
The shot-shy Gunners failed to convince in a tepid first-half-display and the best they could come up with in the first half-hour was a curling shot from Iwobi that was always rising and never worried Shust.
But they eventually made the breakthrough in the 32nd minute and the goal came ironically from one of the rare Vorsla attacks.
The Ukrainian side broke down the right but naively threw too many players forward and Henrikh Mkhitaryan read a dummy and broke free. He set Iwobi down the left and his precise ball across the box found and unmarked Aubameyang, who slotted back across goal into the bottom corner. It was just his sixth touch of the match.
Six minutes later, Lucas Torreira again almost woke Gunners’ fans out of their stupor when whipping in a free-kick around the outside of the defensive wall, only to see the ball go the wrong side of the near post.
Arsenal began to find their rhythm as half-time loomed and Aubameyang almost doubled his and Arsenal’s tally just before the break when he cut inside and unleashed a curling effort that hit the foot of the post. Seconds later, Shust had to be at full stretch to punch away Mkhitaryan’s effort after the Armenian’s sharp turn in the box.
Arsenal, who had failed to keep a clean sheet this season, needed a second goal and it came three minutes into the second period, when Aubameyang rolled the ball back on the left side of the area for Mkhitaryan to dink in a left-footed cross and Welbeck had a simple task to nod home from five yards.
Welbeck could have had a second immediately after when Iwobi broke clear on the left and crossed, only for the England man’s sliding connection to go narrowly the wrong side of Shut’s left-hand post.
The inventive Iwobi was eventually replaced by 18-year-old Emile Smith-Rowe with 21 minutes remaining, but not before he set up Aubameyang, who had all the time in the world to adjust his feet at the far post, but he failed to keep his volley down.
The Gunners continued to up the pace and Aubameyang put the game beyond doubt with his second and Arsenal’s third in the 56th minute, latching on to a neat pass from Mkhitaryan and curling a right-footed shot around Shurst.
Mkhitaryan continued to pull the strings and as the visitors wilted, it became something of an exhibition for the Gunners and a damage-limitation exercise for Vorskla.
Mesut Ozil completed the rout in the 73rd minute after Sokratis clipped a neat ball to Stefan Lichtsteiner, who ran in behind the Vorskla defence and lobbed the ball to the far post. Ozil’s neat half-volley made it 4-0, but seconds later, the Gunners conceded a consolation when, following a half-cleared free-kick, Lichtsteiner failed to deal with a bobbling ball and Vorlska captain Volodymyr Chesnakov thumped a left-footed shot high into the roof of the net.
With the last kick of the game Vyacheslav Sharpar fired home a Vorskla second, with only their second shot of the game.
It took the sheen off an otherwise competent performance. It was only a pity that there were too few fans there to see it.