Arsenal cruise past Bate Borisov into Europa last 16 as Ozil impresses

Arsenal team after their victory

Arsenal team after their victory

Disaster has been averted for Unai Emery’s side, who stood firm despite the very real prospect of this Europa League campaign throwing up one of the most humiliating losses in the club’s history.

Defeat in Belarus last week had made things awkward but Arsenal showed their class in this return leg, gradually turning up the heat on a Bate Borisov side that could not replicate their spirited defensive efforts of last Thursday.

Arsenal team after their victory
Arsenal team after their victory

They could not get particularly close to Ozil, either, as the German went some way to restoring Emery’s faith with a roving and imaginative display against admittedly limited opposition. It was not quite “the best Mesut” that Emery called for earlier this week, but it was certainly a better Mesut than we have come to expect in most games this season.

A panicked, deep-lying defence is of course precisely the opposition that Ozil enjoys playing against, so we must not go reading too much into this performance. It was certainly a step forward for the 30-year-old, though, who finished the match with the captain’s armband on his bicep and a smile on his face as Arsenal booked their place in the last 16.“He wants it, and today he showed us he wants it,” said Emery of Ozil. “His spirit was good, and his quality and his capacity and his skills. We need every player and today the way Mesut played is important and positive for us.”

Victory was secured early in the second half, so it soon became tempting to wonder which way the Arsenal pendulum will swing next. Emery’s side have now alternated between winning and losing in their last nine matches, and only a fool would predict with any conviction what sort of performance they will produce against Southampton this weekend.

At least the mood at the Emirates will have picked up once again, because anything other than a comprehensive win over Bate here would have placed a hitherto unprecedented pressure on Emery. “We played with responsibility and good focus,” said Emery. “It was a good test, a good challenge.”

Winning the Europa League would provide a clear pathway into the Champions League next season, so Emery knew what was at stake. “We need to create a big atmosphere in this competition with our supporters,” said the Spaniard, who had his players fired up and saw a response within four minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned inside and then out down the right before crossing low into the box, where Bate defender Zakhar Volkov managed to shin the ball past his own goalkeeper.

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The sense of occasion and the pressure of keeping Arsenal at bay was clearly gnawing away at Bate in these early exchanges, when Emery’s side attacked with a relentlessness that was so desperately missing in Belarus a week ago. But the danger was always there in the first half, with both sides knowing that an away goal for Bate would change the feel of the evening in an instant. And when Bate went close, twice, in the space of barely 60 seconds, there was a clear air of nervousness spreading around the Emirates. It was only a goal-line Stephan Lichtsteiner clearance, from a Stanislav Dragun shot, that preserved Arsenal’s lead on the night.

Arsenal held their breath in those moments but they soon began to constrict Bate again, squeezing and pressing around the edge of the box. Emery was as ferociously wide-eyed on the touchline as ever, ripping his fists into the air in celebration of one Laurent Koscielny tackle.

A second goal was on its way, with Granit Xhaka, Aubameyang, Ozil and Lichtsteiner all having a go. It was eventually Shkodran Mustafi who made Arsenal’s dominance count with a powerful header from Xhaka’s inswinging corner. A minor injury to Laurent Koscielny, who was taken off as a precaution, gave a chance to Sokratis, back in the side after his own struggles with injury, and the Greek centre-back promptly thumped his own header home from another swirling Xhaka delivery after the break.

The third goal meant that Arsenal could begin to enjoy themselves for the first time since they set eyes on the horrific playing surface in Borisov last week. Ozil and Aubameyang both missed clear chances, but the job was done and Arsenal can continue to dream of a European adventure.Even Mesut Ozil, a man locked in a seemingly permanent state of gloom this season, could throw his head back and laugh towards the heavens at the end of an evening when relief was the overriding emotion for Arsenal.

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Disaster has been averted for Unai Emery’s side, who stood firm despite the very real prospect of this Europa League campaign throwing up one of the most humiliating losses in the club’s history. Defeat in Belarus last week had made things awkward but Arsenal showed their class in this return leg, gradually turning up the heat on a Bate Borisov side that could not replicate their spirited defensive efforts of last Thursday.

They could not get particularly close to Ozil, either, as the German went some way to restoring Emery’s faith with a roving and imaginative display against admittedly limited opposition. It was not quite “the best Mesut” that Emery called for earlier this week, but it was certainly a better Mesut than we have come to expect in most games this season.

A panicked, deep-lying defence is of course precisely the opposition that Ozil enjoys playing against, so we must not go reading too much into this performance. It was certainly a step forward for the 30-year-old, though, who finished the match with the captain’s armband on his bicep and a smile on his face as Arsenal booked their place in the last 16.

“He wants it, and today he showed us he wants it,” said Emery of Ozil. “His spirit was good, and his quality and his capacity and his skills. We need every player and today the way Mesut played is important and positive for us.”

Victory was secured early in the second half, so it soon became tempting to wonder which way the Arsenal pendulum will swing next. Emery’s side have now alternated between winning and losing in their last nine matches, and only a fool would predict with any conviction what sort of performance they will produce against Southampton this weekend.

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At least the mood at the Emirates will have picked up once again, because anything other than a comprehensive win over Bate here would have placed a hitherto unprecedented pressure on Emery. “We played with responsibility and good focus,” said Emery. “It was a good test, a good challenge.”

Winning the Europa League would provide a clear pathway into the Champions League next season, so Emery knew what was at stake. “We need to create a big atmosphere in this competition with our supporters,” said the Spaniard, who had his players fired up and saw a response within four minutes. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang turned inside and then out down the right before crossing low into the box, where Bate defender Zakhar Volkov managed to shin the ball past his own goalkeeper.

The sense of occasion and the pressure of keeping Arsenal at bay was clearly gnawing away at Bate in these early exchanges, when Emery’s side attacked with a relentlessness that was so desperately missing in Belarus a week ago. But the danger was always there in the first half, with both sides knowing that an away goal for Bate would change the feel of the evening in an instant. And when Bate went close, twice, in the space of barely 60 seconds, there was a clear air of nervousness spreading around the Emirates. It was only a goal-line Stephan Lichtsteiner clearance, from a Stanislav Dragun shot, that preserved Arsenal’s lead on the night.

Arsenal held their breath in those moments but they soon began to constrict Bate again, squeezing and pressing around the edge of the box. Emery was as ferociously wide-eyed on the touchline as ever, ripping his fists into the air in celebration of one Laurent Koscielny tackle.

A second goal was on its way, with Granit Xhaka, Aubameyang, Ozil and Lichtsteiner all having a go. It was eventually Shkodran Mustafi who made Arsenal’s dominance count with a powerful header from Xhaka’s inswinging corner. A minor injury to Laurent Koscielny, who was taken off as a precaution, gave a chance to Sokratis, back in the side after his own struggles with injury, and the Greek centre-back promptly thumped his own header home from another swirling Xhaka delivery after the break.

The third goal meant that Arsenal could begin to enjoy themselves for the first time since they set eyes on the horrific playing surface in Borisov last week. Ozil and Aubameyang both missed clear chances, but the job was done and Arsenal can continue to dream of a European adventure.