Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang struck a double to help Arsenal to a winning start in the Europa League against the timid Vorskla.
After a patient start, Henrikh Mkhitaryan sparked a counter for the hosts just after half an hour, sending Alex Iwobi free down the left, and the Nigerian’s vision found Aubameyang, who converted low into the corner.
The Gunners quickly made it two after the restart, with Mkhitaryan’s floated delivery flicked on by Danny Welbeck’s smart header into the back of the net.
And the Gabonese made it three with an emphatic, curled finish from the edge of the area.
Mesut Ozil made it four, tapping home Stephan Lichtsteiner’s cross before the Gunners switched off. Volodymyr Chasnakov guided home a consolation to rob Bernd Leno of a clean sheet on debut before a last second rocket from Vyacheslav Sharpar made it 4-2.
Tougher tests await if Emery is intent on pursuing the backdoor entrance to the Champions League, but he will have seen more signs of encouragement tonight.
Here are five talking points from the Emirates…
1. Emery taking the Europa League seriously
Unai Emery has a love affair with the Europa League after rattling off three successive titles during his time with Sevilla. And despite his Arsenal project and the fans’ hopes extending beyond this competition, the Spaniard revealed his intention with a strong starting line-up.
Yes, there was a debut for Bernd Leno and a first start for Lucas Torreira, but Emery’s selection reveals the Gunners intend to go all the way in Europe – which might develop into their best possible chance of playing in the Champions League next season.
The hectic schedule will lend itself to greater opportunities for the fringe players, which is a perfect tonic for a new manager looking for a hungry squad willing to battle for starting roles and adjust to his ways.
2. Torreira anchors the midfield
Arsenal fans were given their first sight of Lucas Torreira in the starting line-up and it did not take long to confirm Emery’s intentions for the Uruguayan: short, snappy passes at the base of the midfield to help impose his side on their Ukrainian opposition.
Emery instilled a great deal of trust in Torreira to not only utilise the ball but recover when moves broke down.
We witnessed the former Sampdoria star drifting to Sokratis Papastathopoulos’ right when he did not have the ball, forming a back three. Whilst he also formed a double pivot alongside Mohamed Elneny, just in front of Sokratis and Rob Holding, allowing the Gunners to overload into the Vorskla half.
The lack of ambition from Vorskla failed to test the defensive side of Torreira – but that could come quickly, starting with Everton this weekend.
3. Iwobi flourishing under Emery
Alex Iwobi has long been one of Arsenal’s most frustrating players, but he is now showing signs he can hold down a starting role under Unai Emery.
As Arsenal’s main wide threat beyond their full-backs, Iwobi shone in the first half as the link between midfield and attack and routinely provided an end product – something often held against him.
The run wide to open up the space for Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s counter-attacking burst, then the timing and weight of the pass to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to break the deadlock showed how deadly he can be.
What was most encouraging from a breakout performance was his ability to work space and then find a team-mate when the Gunners backed up Vorskla. It demanded him to beat his man without a running start and he routinely did so to boost his reputation.
4. Lichtsteiner provides pressure on Bellerin
Stephan Lichtsteiner showed signs he can push Hector Bellerin for a starting role, routinely galloping up the length of the pitch to provide an outlet for his team.
Whether it was the option to open up Vorskla with a long ball over the top, or his ability to receive possession deep in the opposition half, the Swiss right-back was solid throughout.
His overlapping run helped create the fourth for Arsenal, bravely lifting the ball back across goal for Mesut Ozil to tap home.
Faith will be placed in the Spaniard for now, but Lichtsteiner is there and can be trusted to step in when required.
5. Aubameyang stakes claim to lead the line
Emery’s biggest asset, and perhaps his biggest curse, is his selection dilemma regarding the two genuinely top class No.9s he possesses: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette.
The Gabonese led the line tonight, having been pushed to the wing in recent wings to accommodate his French team-mate at various times.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan struggled to knit Arsenal’s midfield and Aubayemang together initially, with the former Borussia Dortmund striker somewhat isolated. But Aubameyang was always willing to search for openings and offer a wall to bounce possession off when Alex Iwobi cut in from the left.
A different player when afforded space in behind and a composed finisher, as displayed with his two goals. Emery may well need to work on a two-pronged attack moving forward as Aubameyang is clearly better suited to a central role.
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