An awkward evening in Belarus may not have put paid to our chances in the two legged tie, but the manner of this defeat will give many of us Gooners plenty of cause for worry.
Unai Emery sent out a strong side to take on BATE Borisov. Our opponent hadn’t won against an English side, aside from a meaningless tie against Everton a while back. This should have been a cakewalk. BATE weren’t even in any competitive action since December!
The thing is, we simply didn’t turn up, and the Belarussians took full advantage.
In terms of lineup, we had Lacazette up top who is enjoying a fine run of form, ably assisted by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi. Emery again went for five at the back, despite our poor record playing this system, with our defence comprising Kolasinac on the left, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal in the centre and Maitland-Niles on the right. It was a strong backline, or at least as strong as we could name.
In midfield, Granit Xhaka returned to partner Matteo Guendouzi in the centre, and our strong lineup nearly got off to the perfect start.
Iwobi played a fantastic ball in for the rampaging Kolasinac, and the Bosnian squared it for Mkhitaryan, who hit the keeper when it was easier to score. This was inside the first minutes, and we created another soon after, this time it was Mkhi who was the creator, but his inviting cross was missed by everyone.
We would pay for that.
The pitch began to cut up rough early doors, which doesn’t exactly suit our style of play. The game began to unravel quickly for us, as BATE began to get a foothold in the match. We were still creating, Iwobi was next to be denied, but no luck.
On the 22nd minute, Lacazette had a great opportunity, after some good combo play by Kolasinac and Iwobi on the left, but the Frenchman blasted over.
His night would get worse.
BATE were creeping into contention, and were only a Kolasinac toe away from a great chance at the far post. The score was still goalless, but both sides could take solace that they were getting closer.
On the half hour mark, we got a big warning. Milic at the far post put his low shot against the base of the woodwork, and we hardly looked convincing.
Then, on the stroke of half time, BATE got their goal.
A free kick was swung in and an unmarked Dragun rose high to plant a header past Cech.
The ref blew for half time and the wind was sucked from us.
The second half kicked off and BATE had the bit between their teeth, they wanted this, it would be their biggest win.
It took us a little longer than the first half to get going, but after ten or so minutes, we thought we had the vital equaliser. Lacazette was on hand to bundle home from close range, but Laca was slightly offside. We didn’t have the lifeline we wanted.
BATE weren’t content, and were pushing forward, this was the moment we were supposed to be cranking up the pressure, but we were wilting.
Substitutions followed, so often the saving grace of Unai Emery. Aubameyang came on for Maitland-Niles, and Torreira was brought in for Granit Xhaka. We were in desperate territory.
Kolasinac was next to have a shot, but he dragged his effort wide. We weren’t creating quite enough for a team in our position, and Denis Suarez came on next, for the Bosnian.
A switch up in formations didn’t herald any results though. BATE were instead looking the more likely to score. This was far removed from our two games against the same opponent last season that saw us score ten goals.
Then, Lacazette was off. A swing of the arm into the face of his marker was the ultimate sign of frustration, and a clear red, no complaints.
We had nothing left, and the game petered out without another chance made.
We had slumped to one of the worst defeats in our recent history.
Lucky for us, there is a second leg - but if we play like this, then we can forget about any hopes of lifting the trophy.
We’ll be lucky to progress to the next round if this is the norm.
Not good enough. Let’s hope we show up for the second leg. We’ve got plenty of work to do.