Arsenal suffered a shocking 1-0 defeat against BATE Borisov on Thursday in the first leg of their Europa League knockout stage match in Belarus.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan wasted a chance to put Arsenal into the lead after just 90 seconds when he saw his close-range effort saved by goalkeeper Denis Scherbitski, while a cross-cum-shot from the Armenian went inches wide minutes later.
Despite having the majority of possession, it was actually BATE Borisov who, playing their first competitive game in two months, scored the opening goal of the game when midfielder Stanislaw Drahun rose the highest from a free-kick to put the hosts into a shock lead right on the stroke half-time.
The Gunners finally did have the ball in the back of the net just ten minutes after the restart but Alexandre Lacazette’s smart finish was rightly chalked off for offside following Sead Kolašinac’s driven pass across the six-yard box.
The Frenchman’s evening then went from bad to worse when he was given his marching orders for lashing out at Aleksandar Filipović, earning a straight red card.
Although Arsenal continued to knock on the door throughout the remainder of the match they couldn’t find a way through and now Unai Emery’s side have it all to do at the Emirates in the return leg next week, even though many will still back them as favourites to qualify.
Starting XI: Scherbitski (7), Rios (4), Volkov (6), Filipenko (6), Filipović (6); Baha (6), Drahun (8), Hleb (6); Milić (7), Skavysh (7), Stasevich (6).
Substitutes: Berezkin (6), Dubajić (7), Moukam (N/A).
Key Talking Point
Arsenal fans might be getting all teary-eyed every time they see Arsène Wenger pop up on their social media feeds, but there really wasn’t any need for new manager Unai Emery to join in with the nostalgia by replicating a typical Wenger performance.
The north Londoners had all the possession on their travels in Belarus but had little to no end product at all. BATE Borisov were looking to sit back and deny Arsenal any space, but it’s baffling for fans how that age-old tactic against them is still working wonders.
What makes things all the more gut-wrenching for travelling fans is that the players kept their heads down and looked like they didn’t want to be there at all, having the demeanour of a group of Waitrose shoppers who’ve had to use a Tesco for the first time.
Starting XI: Cech (5), Mustafi (5), Koscielny (5), Monreal (6); Maitland-Niles (6), Xhaka (5), Guendouzi (3), Kolasinac (8); Mkhitaryan (5), Iwobi (6), Lacazette (5).
Substitutes: Torreira (5), Aubameyang (4), Suárez (N/A).
STAR MAN – Being crowned as Arsenal’s best player after that 90 minutes is hardly praise, but defender Sead Kolašinac can at least get on the plane home knowing that he did everything he could to get a result against BATE Borisov.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international was the club’s only consistent attacking threat throughout the match and full-back Alexei Rios couldn’t contain Kolašinac at all.
WORST PLAYER – Thursday evening was the perfect chance for teenager Mattéo Guendouzi to finally restore his confidence after a rough few weeks with the first team, but the Frenchman failed to get involved in the game like he showed during his first few weeks as an Arsenal player.
Guendouzi offered little in attack and even less in defence – not that midfield partner Granit Xhaka was much better – which made the Gunners’ attempt to dominate the middle of the park completely redundant.
The Gunners don’t play against before they welcome BATE to north London for the return leg of their Europa League knockout stage match next week following their exit from the FA Cup and they won’t be able to rest players even though Southampton visit the Emirates just days later.