Arsenal escaped Vienna with a narrow win, after a rigorous test from the home team in our Europa League opening fixture.
An abject first half void of forward movement and a second half of catch-up was what the game amounted to, but there was plenty more going on during the 90 - especially an impressive debut from Thomas Partey.
Mikel Arteta named a strong side for this game. Thomas Partey made his full debut, starting alongside Mo Elneny. Alexandre Lacazette was captain and he played alongside Eddie Nketiah in a 4-4-2. David Luiz was in the centre of defence with Gabriel, and Cedric and Kolasinac were in the full-back spots. We had Saka and Pepe in the wide spots, making this side a stronger one than we probably predicted it would have been.
With a side like this, perhaps a stronger start would have been expected, but that wasn’t really the case. True, we dominated the ball and were always looking to stretch Rapid, but there was far too much ball retention and not enough risk taking from our side. Countless balls played sideways and backwards, instead of carrying it forward seemed to be the regular.
We had moments, but there was always something that was amiss. Saka was well placed but his touch deserted him. Crosses were going in but there was no connection to divert it toward goal.
Lots of huff and puff – but no goal.
So, Rapid went in at half time unscathed, but their rough tactics were certainly helping, although we had racked up three yellow cards in the first forty five.
The second half began, well, badly.
Six minutes in, Rapid were ahead, as Bernd Leno was robbed when attempting to play out from the back, with an empty net the gift we presented.
The home side couldn’t believe their luck. They had turned up and stood firm, but they hadn’t really troubled us. Against a vastly superior side, they had the lead, and they had less than a half to see out a famous win.
And they nearly did it. We weren’t exactly looking dangerous. True, we were passing the ball around nicely, but when it came to the crunch, it just didn’t come together. We had plenty of width too, but crosses were not finding their intended target.
The 61st minute is when Arteta couldn’t take any more. He brought on Bellerin for Cedric and Aubameyang for Nketiah. We needed to do the business – and quickly.
With twenty left to play – we had our goal.
Pepe took a free kick and his delivery was glanced home by a fantastic leap from David Luiz, leaving the keeper powerless to stop it. We certainly deserved a point, but could we take all three?
Well, we didn’t have to wait long to find out.
The two substitutes combined excellently. Bellerin accrued his fourth assist of the season already with a delightful cross that Aubameyang met simply but effectively.
Two goals, four minutes. We had clicked for four minutes and look at the damage we created.
Three more late subs followed but there was precious little action happening at either end. We saw the game out comfortably.
An opening win, albeit a nervy one. What did we learn from the game?
Thomas was simply brilliant
The Ghanaian made the most tackles and won the most aerial duels. He broke things up and got us going, making us work at both ends of the pitch. It is hard not to get carried away, but he was by far the brightest player out there.
Width but no verve
We stretched Rapid, but we looked devoid of any real intent. Get the ball into the box? No problem, but there seemed to be no real runners. Strange.
Two number nines meant we relied heavily on the likes of Pepe and Saka to make runs in behind. When they couldn’t find a way through, both Laca and Eddie needed to talk to each other and make differing runs. The two up top would’ve worked better with one of them alongside perhaps Pepe or Auba.
Solid, but unspectacular
We looked relatively untroubled, dealt with most things well. Much like the City game really. But also like the City game, we created hardly anything. Move the ball faster – much like Arteta was screaming from the touchline in both games!
Our next game is another toughie – Leicester City on Sunday at The Emirates