Kieran Tierney’s sublime first-half strike was enough to ensure Arsenal held onto top spot in Europa League Group A as FC Zurich were beaten 1-0 on a nervy night at the Emirates Stadium.
Tierney kept his composure to spear a finish from the edge of the box shortly after the quarter-hour mark, but it wouldn’t open the floodgates for Mikel Arteta’s side, who finish their group-stage campaign with just eight goals from their six games.
Zurich came close to equalising when Adrian Guerrero’s finish was ruled out for offside but the result means the Gunners are now unbeaten in 14 home matches in all competitions, with PSV now facing a play-off against a third-place finisher in the Champions League.
Zurich’s failure to better Bodo/Glimt’s result means it is the Norwegians who finish third in Group A, qualifying for the Europa Conference League knockout-round play-off, where they will face a group runner-up from that competition.
Arsenal: Ramsdale (6), White (7), Holding (6), Gabriel (7), Tierney (8), Elneny (6), Sambi Lokonga (6), Nelson (7), Vieira (8), Nketiah (7), Gabriel Jesus (6).
Subs used: Partey (6), Saka (7), Odegaard (6), Cedric (n/a), Tomiyasu (n/a).
Zurich: Brecher (7), Boranijasevic (7), Kamberi (7), Katic (7), Aliti (7), Conde (6), Selnaes (6), Guerrero (7), Aiyegun (6), Okita (7), Rohner (6).
Subs used: Krasniqi (n/a), Santini (n/a), Marchesano (7), Hornschuh (6), Vyunnyk (6).
Man of the match: Kieran Tierney.
How Arsenal finished top dogs
The Gunners knew they would top Group A if they matched PSV Eindhoven’s result away to Bodo/Glimt – or if the Dutch club failed to win – but they took the lead against the run of play on 17 minutes.
Reiss Nelson, fresh from his double in the 5-0 win over Nottingham Forest, combined with Ben White down the right before Fabio Vieira’s blocked shot landed kindly for Tierney to direct a precise shot low into the bottom corner.
Arsenal team news
- Arsenal made seven changes for the visit of FC Zurich as Bukayo Saka was named on the bench. Mikel Arteta kept Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhaes and Gabriel Jesus in the side.
- Saka was injured in the win over Forest but was fit enough for the bench after overcoming a bruised ankle, while Oleksandr Zinchenko was also back among the substitutes following a calf injury.
- Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney came into the back four, with Mohamed Elneny recalled after a hamstring complaint. Fabio Vieira, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Eddie Nketiah started and Reiss Nelson was rewarded for his two-goal cameo on Sunday with a place on the wing.
It was the Scotland full-back’s first goal of the season, and Arsenal came close to doubling their advantage five minutes later when Vieira set up Eddie Nketiah for a 25-yard drive that was parried to safety by Yanick Brecher.
Zurich arrived in North London in poor form; their comeback victory on Matchday 5 against Bodo/Glimt ended a run of 13 games without a win across all competitions, but they followed up that success with another defeat last Sunday against Sion.
The visitors threatened sporadically in the opening period, with Jonathan Okita’s deflected shot drawing a smart save from Aaron Ramsdale before Fidan Aliti’s header from a set-piece failed to trouble the Arsenal goalkeeper.
The Swiss club, who had only won one of their previous 17 away games in major European competitions – never beating an English club on their travels – ought to have fallen further behind when Vieira latched onto Nketiah’s clever pull-back but his shot was blocked by Gabriel Jesus, standing in an offside position.
Vieira was always involved, having another tame shot blocked by Guerrero before the interval, and moments after the restart it was Jesus who would be denied by Brecher’s starfish save from point-blank range.
PSV were doubling their lead in Norway, meaning anxious faces in the stands, and those concerns were almost realised when Guerrero found the net after Ramsdale had kept out Antonio Marchesano’s first-shot back across goal.
The offside flag came to the rescue of Arsenal, who had summoned Bukayo Saka from the bench in search of the killer insurance goal. Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey were also introduced. Arteta wanted the comfort of a second, but this turned into a disjointed second-half display.
With PSV home and hosed against Bodo/Glimt, Zurich manager Bo Henriksen sensed a famous point which would have meant his side snatching the Europa Conference League play-off berth.
He summoned Bogdan V’Yunnik from the bench and it was his crisp shot which arrowed just wide of Ramsdale’s post inside the final 10 minutes.
Arsenal held on for the victory, meaning they will head straight to the last 16 after Christmas, but it would come at a cost. Takehiro Tomiyasu was a late introduction, but would be replaced before the final whistle with a hamstring injury which could severely impact his chances of going to the World Cup with Japan.
Tierney’s winner keeps Arsenal rolling, for now. And onto Chelsea and Aubamayeng on Sunday.
Analysis: Vieira impresses but Tomiyasu adds to injury woes
Sky Sports’ Ben Grounds at the Emirates Stadium:
“Takehiro Tomiyasu pulled his shirt up over his head in frustration. The Japanese full-back had been a late substitute in this tetchy affair but he would not last long on the pitch, replaced by Cedric Soares due to a muscle injury which adds to the growing concerns now facing Mikel Arteta.
“Arsenal are top of the Premier League pile, they clung onto top spot in the Europa League, but his squad is now being stretched. For much of this opening chunk of the season the Spaniard has had a starting XI you could almost read out from memory, but having made seven alterations ahead of a crucial London derby on Sunday, he is left again picking up the walking wounded for Chelsea.
“The return of Bukayo Saka for a second-half cameo was as welcome as it was necessary, given how Arsenal toiled and failed to put an obdurate but limited Zurich to bed. Tierney’s goal was a thing of beauty and worthy of winning any match and it is the avoidance of two additional games in a play-off that will delight Arteta the most.
“Fabio Vieira impressed in the opening period, and arguably should have added to Arsenal’s lead, with his three shots yielding a game-leading xG of 0.35. He also completed three key passes and had five touches in the Zurich box.
“Defensively, won the ball three times, once of which came in the final third. The Portuguese was involved in eight of the Gunners’ attempts tonight (4 shots, 4 chances created). It was an all-action display which will give Arteta hope that the depth is there to compete on multiple fronts once the season resumes after the World Cup.”
Gunners keeping it clean – Opta stats
- Arsenal have kept a clean sheet in all three of their home group-stage games in a single European campaign for the first time since the 2008-09 UEFA Champions League.
- Zürich have lost all six of their away games against English sides in all European competition.
- Arsenal have finished top of their group in all five of their participations in the UEFA Europa League, with no side winning a group more often since the rebrand of the competition in 2009-10 (FC Red Bull Salzburg also five).
- Kieran Tierney scored his third goal in the UEFA Europa League (2 for Arsenal, 1 for Celtic), with only Kris Commons (6) netting more among Scottish players in the competition since 2009-10.
Arsenal have three more games before the World Cup. They travel to Chelsea on Sunday November 6; kick-off 12pm. They then welcome Brighton in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday November 9; kick-off 7.45pm.
The Gunners’ final Premier League game before the tournament sees them travel to Wolves on Saturday November 12, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 7.45pm.
Zurich will also play two further league fixtures before the World Cup, returning to action on January 21.