Folarin Balogun once again impressed after coming on from the bench as Arsenal secured a 4-2 win over Dundalk.
Arsenal signed off their 2020/21 UEFA Europa League group stage campaign on a positive note following a scintillating 4-2 victory over Dundalk on Thursday.
It was a fascinating, action-packed contest right from the beginning, although it was Dundalk who looked surprisingly brave and tried to keep hold of possession. Unfortunately, a defensive error allowed Arsenal to find an opener through Eddie Nketiah, which was followed by an incredible long-range strike from Mohamed Elneny.
Dundalk were quick to respond, however, as they immediately pulled one back through Junior Flores, with the first-half ending with a slender lead for the visiting team. It was pretty much the same story after the restart although this time, the Gunners looked far more comfortable in possession.
They deservedly restored their two-goal advantage courtesy Joe Willock midway through the second half before substitute Folarin Balogun added more gloss to the scoreline. Dundalk pulled one back once again but it was too late as Arsenal did just enough to seal a 4-2 victory.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will run the rule over the Arsenal players following their triumph at the Aviva Stadium on Thursday.
Runar Alex Runarsson: 5/10
Runar Alex Runarsson will be disappointed with his performance on Thursday evening. The Iceland international could have a bit better in keeping Flores’s effort that led to the first goal while he also had no answer to the shot by Sean Hoare for the second Dundalk goal. Overall, it was a missed clean sheet opportunity for the Arsenal number two.
Calum Chambers: 8/10
In what his first start for Arsenal in this calendar year, Calum Chambers marked his return to the starting lineup in the most positive manner as he produced an excellent defensive display against Dundalk. The ex-Southampton looked confident in his ball distribution as well and was unfortunately denied a late goal due to an offside call. It would have been perfect to cap off an otherwise commendable display.
Shkodran Mustafi: 7/10
Shkodran Mustafi provided the leadership and the experience in the Arsenal backline. His aggression and work ethic were critical in keeping things tidy at the back, though the German was not tested much in truth.
Pablo Mari: 7.5/10
It was another impressive defensive performance from Pablo Mari. He was tidy with his passes out from the back as he provided a healthy ball-progression that Arsenal have lacked in their build-up this season. It will certainly be intriguing to see whether the Spaniard will be considered by Mikel Arteta in the upcoming Premier League matches.
Cedric Soares: 7.5/10
Cedric Soares was one of the most active players for Arsenal in this match. He had an eventful game as he provided constant support to the likes of Nicolas Pepe and Joe Willock. His crosses were not exactly accurate but the Portuguese international did an excellent job of keeping the opposition occupied with his work-rate.
Joe Willock: 7.5/10
It was a routine Europa League performance from Willock, who has been in tremendous form in the competition. The Englishman did start the game slowly but was a key outlet in Arsenal’s approach play in the second half and was duly rewarded with a goal in the 67th minute.
Mohamed Elneny: 7.5/10
Mohamed Elneny scored a blinder to double Arsenal’s lead in the 18th minute. Aside from the goal, the Egyptian international offered assurance and solidity in the middle of the park. He did not last long, however, as he was subbed off around the hour mark.
— Wrsenal (@WrsenalFC) December 10, 2020
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 7/10
Ainsley Maitland-Niles produced yet another decent shift out wide. He was always willing to make direct runs into the opposition half and provide support to Emile Smith Rowe. Their combination play did not exactly breach the Dundalk defence, but it was enough to keep them occupied, especially in the second half.
Nicolas Pepe: 7.5/10
Nicolas Pepe took his time settling into the game and was not threatening much in the first half. However, the Ivorian dominated the game after moving into a more central role. His hold-up play, quick feet and dynamic movements made life difficult for the opposition, with the winger notably picking up the assist for the Balogun goal.
Eddie Nketiah: 8/10
Eddie Nketiah once again made a huge impact on the proceedings with his pace and dynamism. In fact, it was he who capitalised on the Dundalk mistake to find the early opener and that too with a classic chip over the goalkeeper. Clear-cut chances came few and far between for the youngster but he remained vigilant as ever.
Emile Smith Rowe: 7/10
Smith Rowe could perhaps have done a better job of influencing the game after being handed a starting role by Mikel Arteta. One could perhaps pinpoint to the fact that the youngster was played in a wide attacking role, although he did provide some threat for the Dundalk defenders in the second half.
Folarin Balogun: 8.5/10
It was a surprise to see Balogun not starting the game and that became very clear as the youngster offered tremendous energy and dynamism in the final third. He also made smart movements, ultimately getting rewarded with a goal. Fans will definitely expect him to occasionally feature in Premier League matches this season.
Folarin Balogun is the fifth player to score in each of his first two away appearances for #Arsenal in Europe after Liam Brady (Oct 1978), Ian Wright (March 1994), Gilberto Silva (Oct 2002) & Emile Smith Rowe (Nov 2018).
Not bad company!
— Harvey Downes (@HarveyDownes92) December 10, 2020
Dani Ceballos: 7/10
Dani Ceballos replaced Elneny around the hour mark, offering more ball progression and assurance in the build-up play. A decent shift by the on-loan Real Madrid midfielder.
Ben Cottrell: N/A
Ben Cottrell made his senior Arsenal debut by coming on for Smith Rowe with just 13 minutes remaining on the clock. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.
Miguel Azeez: N/A
Raised an eyebrow or two with his impressive turns and quality on the ball for the final few minutes. Did not play enough to warrant a rating.