Arsenal Vs Ostersunds: Highlights and analysis – Efficient, effective win

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on February 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: Arsene Wenger of Arsenal looks on during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on February 10, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images) /

Arsenal faced Swedish side FK Ostersunds in the first leg of their last-32 Europa League tie. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis of the 3-0 win.

An effective and efficient performance from Arsenal. The quality of the opposition must obviously be taken into consideration when drawing meaningful conclusions from this performance, but in terms of the task at hand, Arsene Wenger’s side did it and did it well. The 3-0 victory over FK Ostersunds sets up Arsenal perfectly for the second leg, which comes just three days before the Carabao Cup final, and opens their Europa League knockout account wonderfully.

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The first half was exactly what we all expected. Perhaps even more so. Ostersunds sat astoundingly deep — both Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers sat inside the Ostersunds’ half for much of the first 45 minutes during the extended periods of possession that the Gunners enjoyed — and the attacking onus was very much on the visitors to prove their assumed superior quality. Thankfully, they were able to do so.

The first chance fell to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ostersunds tried to play out from a goal kick, passing the ball into the midfield. Mkhitaryan pounced and the loose ball fell to Mesut Ozil. With the goalkeeper closing and the ball squirming away, Ozil flicked it backwards for Mkhitaryan, whose first-time effort was brilliantly blocked on the line.

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From the resultant corner, however, the opening goal came. A short corner led to a clever Mkhitaryan cut-back to Alex Iwobi. His shot was blocked, and his rebounded effort, after some neat play to first shield the ball and then spin into a yard of space, was fizzed low to the goalkeeper’s right. It was saved, but the ball spilled loose to Nacho Monreal who slammed home the welcome opportunity for his third goal in just five games.

Arsenal continued to create chances: Mkhitaryan had two shots saved from range and Danny Welbeck skied one after a sweeping break down the right channel involving Hector Bellerin exposed Ostersunds. Arsenal played some lovely one-touch football, although they did not quite create the chances that their play perhaps hinted at.

The second goal was not the best move of the first half. Ostersunds, who were insistent on their willingness to play out from defensive areas, lost the ball in their own penalty area. It was Henrikh Mkhitaryan who nipped in, and the Armenian, without a second to pause, flashed a low, drilled cross into the six-yard box. With Danny Welbeck attacking the ball, the cross deflected off Sotirios Papagiannopoulos and nestled into the far corner.

It would, however, be remiss of me to say that Ostersunds simply laid over. While the opening quarter of the game certainly looked that way, there was a clear tactical shift by the Swedes to press a little higher up the pitch and force mistakes from the Arsenal players in possession. Not only did it give them a greater defensive stability, stemming the relentless tide of Gunners’ attacks, but it also provided them with opportunities.

Saman Ghoddos had a couple of good shots on goal, including an excellent lashed attempt from distance that required an athletic David Ospina save to clear the crossbar, while there were openings from the Arsenal defence because of a slight complacent attacking ambition that stemmed from their early dominance.

Ultimately, though, at half-time, Arsenal went in the deserved and happy leaders. The two-goal advantage was certainly deserved and provided them with the perfect foundation to finish the two-legged tie at the first outing.

The second half, or at least the opening stages of the second half, was a much fairer affair. Ostersunds were far less conservative in their defensive approach, not allowing Arsenal to have ample time and space on the ball in the midfield areas, and the Gunners found it harder going to break down their hosts. That was until the 58th minute.

Arsenal swept down the left flank, eventually feeding the ball into Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s feet right on the touchline. He waited for the passing lane to open, seeing the run of Mesut Ozil into the penalty area, and fired a low pass into the German’s feet, dissecting a forest of Ostersunds’ legs. Ozil took one touch with his left foot before hooking a shot towards the goal that squirmed past the goalkeeper who did get a left hand to the ball.

Ostersunds did have a couple of penalty shouts that were harshly turned out. Both times, Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers rashly clambered into a challenge. Both times, they failed to make genuine contact with the ball. Both times, an Ostersunds player went tumbling. Mustafi’s was the better shout, but neither were given.

The remainder of the game was played out at a fairly leisurely pace. Wenger introduced the likes of Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah and the intensity of the match reduced significantly. The work had been done. There was nothing more for Arsenal to do.

Ostersunds did get a very late penalty with Hector Bellerin sliding in from behind and clumsily bringing down the Ostersunds attacker, which could have left the tie in a balance that forced Wenger to field a stronger line-up in next week’s return leg. But David Ospina stood up to the test, getting down to his left to save the poor and placed penalty.

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Ultimately, this was an extremely comfortable win. Arsenal did exactly what was asked of them, without ever hitting the rhythmically phenomenal levels that their play hinted at at times, and tied up the double-legged tie at the first attempt. Job well done.