Alexandre Lacazette Leads Arsenal to 1-0 Europa League Win over FK Qarabag

Gill Clark@@gillclarkyFeatured Columnist IDecember 13, 2018

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette, left, and Arsenal's Mesut Ozil celebrate after scoring their side's first goal during the Europa League group E soccer match between Arsenal and Qarabag at Emirates stadium in London, England, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

Arsenal completed their UEFA Europa League group-stage campaign with a 1-0 win over Qarabag at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

With top spot in Group E already confirmed, manager Unai Emery heavily rotated his side and handed youngsters Bukayo Saka, 17, and Eddie Nketiah, 19, starts, while Laurent Koscielny made his long-awaited return from a ruptured Achilles.

The Gunners went ahead on 17 minutes when Mesut Ozil released Alexandre Lacazette, who fired a low shot past goalkeeper Vagner.

There were few other clear-cut goalscoring chances for either side in a tame affair. Arsenal did get the ball in the back of the net again after the break, but Nketiah's header was ruled out for offside. 

  

Nketiah Can Replace Injured Welbeck

Nketiah made his second Europa League start of the season against Qarabag and had a hand in the only goal. The teenager did well to win possession in midfield and feed Ozil, who teed up Lacazette to drive home a low shot.

James Benge at the Evening Standard praised the youngster for his role in the goal:

Nketiah thought he'd added a second on 76 minutes when he started and finished a lovely move that involved Ozil and Bukayo Saka, but the offside flag denied him.

ESPN FC's Mattias Karen found his finish impressive:

He also set up Saka for a superb chance late on with a pinpoint cross from the right that the 17-year-old fired straight at Vagner.

Arsenal are short on forward options beyond Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang following Danny Welbeck's injury. The 28-year-old suffered a broken ankle in November and has undergone two operations on it, per BBC Sport.

The side's head of football, Raul Sanllehi, has said Arsenal may consider signing a replacement for Welbeck in the January transfer window, per Sam Dean at The Telegraph.

Finding the right player to come in midway through the season can be difficult, and Arsenal should give Nketiah further chances to show he can fill in for Welbeck in attack.

  

Returning Koscielny Crucial for Gunners' Shaky Defence

Koscielny made a welcome return for the Gunners on Thursday. Opta noted how long it had been since his last appearance:

The captain had a comfortable evening against a limited Qarabag alongside Sokratis Papastathopoulos in central defence for Arsenal. He was rarely tested and came through his 72 minutes on the pitch unscathed. The Arsenal fans made their feelings known when Nacho Monreal replaced him in the second half:

Koscielny's return will be a welcome relief for Emery and will be crucial for the Gunners' shaky defence. Arsenal have conceded 20 goals in 16 Premier League games and have kept just one clean sheet in their last nine top-flight outings.

They have also lost Rob Holding, as the centre-back will miss the next nine months with a serious knee injury, per BBC Sport.

Arsenal has missed and will need Koscielny's experience and composure at the back end as they head into the knockout stages of the Europa League and bid to finish in the top four of the Premier League.

          

What's Next?

Arsenal return to Premier League action on Sunday at struggling Southampton. Qarabag play on the same day in the Azerbaijan Cup against Kesla.

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