It is advantage to the Dutchmen following Ajax’s flying start in north London on Tuesday night, but which players impressed as Tottenham Hotspur lost the Champions League semi-final first leg and who let themselves down?
Tottenham Hotspur (3-5-2)
Helpless for the Van de Beek goal but did excellently with his legs to prevent the Ajax midfielder from scoring a quickfire second. 6/10
Failed to hit the target with a free header from Trippier’s free-kick. Helped to marshal Tadic as Spurs grew into the game later on. 6/10
A difficult evening in which he appeared to be targeted by his former club. His recovery speed was useful when Ajax countered. 5/10
Forced to leave the field in worrying circumstances. Was barely able to stand after an accidental collision with Alderweireld had left him bloodied and dazed. 5/10
Played Van de Beek onside for the opening goal. Deliveries were inconsistent but crosses for Alderweireld and Llorente created two of Spurs’ best chances. 5/10
Never as influential as he would have wanted to be. Spoke volumes that some of his best moments were when he helped out defensively. 6/10
Had plenty of work to do to plug the gaps in the midfield. Isolated early on and he struggled with the intensity of the Ajax pressing. 5/10
Looked a different player after Sissoko’s arrival. Allowed to push further forward, he tested Onana with a fierce effort. 6/10
Boisterous and tireless down the left, where Ziyech kept him busy. Forever willing but final pass or cross was generally snuffed out. 6/10
The home side’s most industrious and creative attacker. His scarpering runs caused problems for Ajax. Would have hoped for one clear chance. 7/10
Should have hit the target with a first-half header from Trippier’s delivery. Had moments of joy against Blind, but not enough. 6/10
Liverpool will be on the harder side of Thursday’s draw after Benfica won a play-off, with Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham the other Premier League clubs involved.
Liverpool, runners-up in the Champions League last season, will be in pot three in Thursday afternoon’s group-stage draw after Benfica saw off Paok Thessaloniki in the play-offs.
Had Benfica lost then Liverpool would have joined Manchester United and Tottenham in pot two. Manchester City are in pot one.
The draw, which begins at 5pm BST, will determine the make-up of the eight Champions League groups. One team from each pot will be placed in each group. No teams from the same country can be drawn in the same group and Uefa has also ruled that clubs from Russia and Ukraine cannot face one another.
Pot one consists of the holders (Real Madrid), the Europa League winners (Atlético Madrid) and the champions of the six highest-ranked nations. Pots two to four are determined by the club coefficient rankings.
The one surprise in Wednesday night’s play-offs was the elimination of RB Salzburg by Red Star Belgrade, who came back from 2-0 down in Austria to draw 2-2 and advance on away goals.
Pot one Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City, Juventus, PSG, Lokomotiv Moscow
Pot two Borussia Dortmund, Porto, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, Napoli, Tottenham, Roma
The question reads: “Sergio Ramos injured Mohamed Salah in the 2018 European Champions League final. Naturally, Ramos cannot be held to account for this action from a criminal law perspective due to four conditions that make the use of violence justified in sports. State these conditions.”
The question seems to have been met with good humour and sporting rivalry from most students, with the opposition Enab Baladi website saying that some described the teacher who set the exam as a “defeated Barcelona fan” – Barcelona’s fierce rivals Real Madrid won the final in Kiev after their 3-1 victory over Liverpool.
Another Facebook user commented: “Any Barcelona fan would have torn up the exam paper and left when they heard Ramos’s name.”
Others commended the professor who wrote the question for having students apply the law to a real life example, while the university’s own Facebook page rushed to the defence of the teacher. “The question was clear and frank. All thanks and appreciation goes to the academic staff in general,” it said.
“The conditions are: 1 – That the game is held according to the law. 2 – For the injured player to have consented to take part in the game. 3 – For the player who was behind the injury to have respected the rules and principles of the game. 4 – For the injuries to have been sustained during the game,” they wrote.
Reporting by Lina Shaikhouni, Alistair Coleman from the BBC
Alexander-Arnold: ‘From the start in Europe we’re in it to win it’
Defender believes his game has hit new heights this season
Trent Alexander-Arnold has said Liverpool fear no one in the Champions Leaguesemi-final draw on Friday and believes his game reached new heights after being targeted as a weak link by Manchester City.
The 19-year-old excelled in both legs of the quarter-final and insists a sixth European Cup triumph is a realistic aim for Liverpool given the manner of their 5-1 aggregate defeat of the runaway Premier League leaders. Alexander-Arnold, who was nine the last time Liverpool reached the Champions League semi-finals, scored the opening goal of an unbeaten campaign by Jürgen Klopp’s team in the play-off win at Hoffenheim. He claims there is no team, past or potential, in the competition who intimidate Liverpool.
“Throughout the whole tournament there hasn’t been a team who strike fear in us,” he said. “We’ve looked at it from the start that we’re in it to win it. As it goes on, you get closer and closer to getting that chance to win it. We’ve taken another step closer to the final and there are still two more games ahead of us. Whoever we draw on Friday, we’ll look forward to the game and hopefully get to the final.”
The defender’s confidence was echoed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who believes the City victory will have an impact on the remainder of Liverpool’s season. “To beat City twice is no easy feat,” the England midfielder said. “We did it twice in a week and earlier this season. It shows us that when we are at the races and at the right level we can beat anyone in this league. Hopefully now it is on us – whoever we get in the next round – to prove we can beat anyone in Europe as well.”
Pep Guardiola and his team sought to exploit Alexander-Arnold’s inexperience in the quarter-final, particularly in the first leg at Anfield, only for the Liverpool-born defender to thrive in his duel with Leroy Sané. “I guess Man City looked at it and felt I was the weak link,” the teenager said. “Maybe that gave me that underdog mentality and I tried to prove them wrong. That’s what I went out to try and do – prove them wrong and show them I’m not the weak link in the team.
“I think over the two legs I did my best to win my personal battles and help us win the tie. It was a different test for me. It was a bigger, harder test. I had to play to a better level than I’ve probably ever played before. It tested me to a new level and now I know that I’ve got that in me. That is the level I need from myself to keep my standards really high and to hopefully be able to play in these elite European games and come out on top.”
It was an interesting, but heart-aching night for football lovers as the big heads lock horns in the first leg of the Uefa Champions League quarter finals.
For a brief moment, there was stunned silence. It felt as if nobody could comprehend what they had witnessed. Then the applause broke out. It came from all sides of this boisterous arena. In great blocks, the Juventus supporters rose to their feet. It was to recognise sporting genius and it did not matter to them that it had come from a rival.
Cristiano Ronaldo had put Real Madrid in control of this Champions Leaguequarter-final with an early poacher’s finish. He now had them in sight of the next stage and, even by his exulted standards, it was a jaw-dropping intervention. When Dani Carvajal stood up a cross from the right, Ronaldo instinctively knew that the overhead kick was on. He leapt, hung and stretched before, with the ball at its highest point, he swivelled his hips and worked a right-footed masterpiece beyond Gianluigi Buffon.
Ronaldo has 25 goals in his last 14 games for club and country. He has scored in every Champions League tie this season to lead the field for the competition’s Golden Boot with 14. Something seems to stir inside of him when the aria plays. Juventus were broken.
Paulo Dybala, their great hope, was sent off for a high boot on Carvajal, having previously been booked for diving and, when Ronaldo ushered in Marcelo for Real’s third, it was all over. Juventus have won the previous four two-legged ties against Real, going back to 1996, but they need a miracle to progress. After the loss to Real in last season’s final in Cardiff, this was another bitter pill.
Massimiliano Allegri had likened grand Champions League occasions to an evening at La Scala. “We live for nights like this,” read the Juventus slogan on the big screen during the pre-match lights show. One of Europe’s classic matches pulsed with stardust and history, with the subplots rich and numerous.
Zinedine Zidane was once feted as a Juventus player. This was his first return to Turin as a coach. Cardiff had framed the occasion, with Zidane starting with the same Real lineup as he had in last season’s final. Allegri insisted that the tie was not about revenge. Nobody truly believed him.
Ronaldo’s numbers are freakish and needed to be updated – and further gawped at – after three minutes. Marcelo’s lovely switch of feet created the angle for the pass up the left to Isco but it was still shocking to see how much space the Real midfielder had to measure his cross. Ronaldo held his run. Then, he bolted for the near post. When Karim Benzema stood tall in the middle, he effectively set a screen for his team-mate. Andrea Barzagli was blocked off and, when Ronaldo converged, everybody knew what would happen next. It was Ronaldo’s sixth appearance in Real’s colours against Juventus. He has never failed to score against them.
The significance of the away goal was lost on nobody and the tie became shaped to Real’s liking. Juventus had to push; the visitors were more than happy to punch on the counter. With Luka Modric and Isco showcasing sumptuous touches, they threatened another before the interval. Raphaël Varane headed over from a corner when unmarked. Toni Kroos thumped a 25-yard drive against the crossbar.
Juventus looked a little frantic as they chased the equaliser but they had their moments – the biggest coming on 22 minutes. Gonzalo Higuaín volleyed a Dybala free-kick goalwards and it took a wonderful reflex save by Keylor Navas to deny him.
Real were indebted to Sergio Ramos and Varane for important interventions but it felt symptomatic of Juventus’s frustrations that Dybala attempted to win a penalty in the 45th minute with a blatant dive. He was booked. Moments earlier, the home crowd had howled for a penalty when the ball appeared to strike Varane’s arm at close quarters. An award would have been harsh.
The burden on Dybala to create was heavy. He drew a foul from Ramos on 54 minutes for which the defender was booked – the Real captain is suspended for the second leg – and Dybala watched his subsequent free-kick deflect wide. His night would end in ignominy.
Ronaldo had gone close at the start of the second half and he should have completed the hat-trick late on from point-blank range. The substitute Mateo Kovacic rattled the bar. The 12-time champions scent further glory.
Thiago Alcântara’s header gives Bayern Munich upper hand against Sevilla
At the final whistle there was applause and then at one end of this stadium they began to bounce about, chanting about how proud they were of the team that soon came over to clap them back. At the same time, Bayern Munich’s players, headed to the other end. It had not been easy but they had won 2-1, taking an important lead into the second leg. There is still the Allianz Arena to come, but the reaction from the Sánchez Pizjuán felt final, like the fans here knew they had probably reached the end of the road. It is 60 years since Sevilla have come so far and there was reason to be satisfied even if there was reason to be a little sad too. For Bayern, this is familiar territory, but the next step will be harder.
Sevilla always knew this would be difficult, the banner depicting them as Asterix and Obelix spread across one end expressing the enormity of what they had before them, but they had come to believe. “Sevilla score a goal,” the fans sang as the clock ran down. They had scored one in the first half, through Pablo Sarabia, but an own goal from Jesús Navas and a header from Thiago Alcântara had seen Bayern recover to take a 2-1 lead. Now Sevilla tried to find the equaliser, but it was not to be. If Manchester was historic, they will have to do something even more extraordinary in Munich.
For much of the first half, it felt perfectly possible. Carlos Joaquín Correa and Sergio Escudero had first combined as early as the second minute and it was from their left wing that the first chance came. Escudero’s wonderful ball sought out Wissam Ben Yedder and, as Matts Hummels tried to intercept, the ball fell at the feet of Sarabia nine yards out. Sarabia, though, curled it wide. The lament did not last. Just after the half-hour Escudero delivered again, this time long towards the far post. Juan Bernat was slow to the bounce, seemingly unaware of the threat behind him, and Sarabia jumped in front, controlling on the chest and finishing, running to the corner redeemed.
The noise, already deafening, found a way of increasing somehow, the roar rolling round, but Bayern took just six minutes to draw level, fortune favouring the Bavarians. James Rodríguez received from Thomas Müller and, amid the din, spread the play to the left where Franck Ribéry ran at the Sevilla defence. Opening out his body to bend the ball in right-footed, Ribéry instead hit Navas; the ball changed direction and squeezed past David Soria at the near post. Until then a simple catch from Thiago’s long shot was as difficult as it got for a goalkeeper surprisingly included ahead of Sergio Rico.
The draws for the quarterfinal pairing in the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League was conducted in Nyon, Switzerland on Friday at the UEFA headquarters and in the 16 clubs left in both competitions are just two Nigerian players.
Ahmed Musa just returned to CSKA Moscow on loan from Leicester City while Alex Iwobi plays his football at Arsenal. Both clubs will compete in the Europa League.
Musa was instrumental to CSKA qualifying for the quarter-final as he scored in the 3-2 surprise victory over Lyon after losing the first leg at home 1-0.
The winger or second forward scored on the hour to give CSKA a 2-1 lead while Pontus Wernbloom scored the Russian team’s third. Mariano Diaz scored for the French side with 19 minutes left on the clock but despite four added minutes, CSKA held on to book their ticket to the last eight.
Champions LeagueNigeria PlayersEuropa LeagueNigeria Players
AS RomaNilArsenalAlex Iwobi
Bayern Munich NilCSKA MoscowAhmed Musa
Juventus Nil Olympique Marseille Nil
Liverpool Nil RB Leipzig Nil
Manchester City Nil Salzburg Nil
Real Madrid Nil SS Lazio Nil
Sevilla Nil Sporting Lisbo nNil
Total Nil Total Two
Iwobi was an unused substitute when Arsenal confirmed their passage with a 3-1 second leg win over AC Milan. They won the first leg 2-0 to qualify 5-2 on aggregate.
In the Champions League, the last surviving Nigerian, Victor Moses lost out with Chelsea to Barcelona 4-1 on aggregate. He played all 90 minutes in the first leg and lasted 67 minutes in the second leg.
45 min: Willian is booked that the wall hasn’t gone back the full 10 yards.
44 min: Chelsea are still trying. Willian feeds a pass into Giroud’s feet 25 yards from goal. He turns and Pique brings him down. This is a fine opportunity for Alonso or Willian.
41: A lull.
38 min: To their credit, Chelsea aren’t giving up. Moments after that Alonso effort, Kante bustles through a couple of challenges on the edge of the Barcelona area and finds himself with only Ter Stegen to beat. Fabregas, who might be offside, tries to step in and swipe home with his right foot, but Kante is there first and he slashes a shot wide with his left. What a chance that was! Maybe there’s hope yet for Chelsea. One goal might make Barcelona nervous.
37 min: Iniesta shoots well wide from the edge of the area.
36 min: Messi’s goal, timed at two minutes and eight seconds, is the quickest of his career!
33 min: Over on the right, Messi clips the free-kick into the area, Chelsea caught unawares again. The unmarked Pique can’t quite scoop the ball over Courtois, though, and Chelsea survive.
33 min: Messi gambols down the right, cuts inside and is brought down by Rudiger. He stays down for a while. It was a pretty innocuous foul, though.
31 min: On the one hand, Chelsea haven’t exactly been poor. On the other, this is easily their softest ever performance on this ground. For all Messi’s brilliance, it’s impossible to excuse the way Chelsea gave the goals away. It’s hard to imagine previous Chelsea teams being opened up by Barcelona so easily.
28 min:Barcelona are starting to have some fun now, Iniesta swerving into the area from the left and completely confounding Chelsea with a gorgeous backheel to Suarez, who’s through on goal. The angle’s tight, however, and Courtois stays big and blocks Suarez’s effort to keep Chelsea hanging in the tie.
24 min: This is a weird game. It’s been fairly evenly balanced and yet there’s a danger that Chelsea are already out of it. Barcelona haven’t done too many impressive things. But Messi has done two brilliant things and Chelsea haven’t helped themselves with some generous defending.
22 min: That arguably does change Chelsea’s task. Now they have to score twice. Send for Ramires!
GOAL! Barcelona 2-0 Chelsea (Dembele, 20 min; 3-2 agg)
Chelsea break. The ball falls to Hazard on the edge of the area. His shot is blocked. The ball ends up back on the halfway line with Fabregas. Yet he dithers as the ball bounces up, allowing the alert Messi to nip in and steal possession. Uh oh. Suddenly he’s away. Out of nothing. Christensen hurtles across, but Messi’s too quick for him. He beats Azpilicueta as well, skittling to the defender’s left. Four or five Chelsea defenders recognise the danger and move towards Messi. But he’s too clever for all of them. He sees what no one else sees and plays a stunning pass across the area to Dembele, who’ arrived on the scene unmarked. The youngster takes a touch and crashes a rising drive past Courtois, who can’t stop the ball from flying into the far corner! What a time for Dembele to score his first Barcelona goal! And what a hole Chelsea find themselves in now!
17 min: Dembele, tight to the touchline, goes to ground with Alonso nearby. Nothing doing. It’s a throw to Chelsea. There’s a strange feel to this. Barcelona were completely dominant for three minutes and scored, but they’ve looked ordinary since then and not much has happened.
15 min:Barcelona enjoy a decent spell of possession for pretty much the first time since, well, Messi’s goal in the third minute. The fear for Chelsea, though, is that Messi is simply biding his time before coming to life again.
12 min: It’s all Chelsea at the moment. They’re snapping in energetically to win the ball in midfield and they have Barcelonapinned back for the time being. Willian, who scored Chelsea’s goal in the first leg, decides to have a crack from 25 yards. Ter Stegen saves smartly down to his right. “Remember when Courtouis was a top 3 keeper?” says Rob Coughlin.
11 min: Moses wins a free-kick after breaking down the right and trying to combine with Giroud. The ball is eventually lifted into the Barcelona area. It’s cleared, but Chelsea continue to press. Hazard spins on a sixpence on the edge of the area and slips a pass through to Rudiger, who’s offside.
9 min: Now Kante nips in to win possession before finding Moses. He bursts into the area, but he’s stopped by a sliding Iniesta, who timed his tackle perfectly.
8 min: Chelsea continue to probe, Hazard mischievous again, drifting inside from the left and finding Moses in space on the right this time. The wing-back’s low cross is cut out, but Chelsea will be encouraged by the last few minutes. They’re finding gaps in the final third.
7 min: Chelsea have realised that there might be weaknesses down the right side of Barcelona’s defence. Hazard causes more problems, feeding a pass through to the overlapping Willian, whose low ball into the six-yard box is hacked clear by Umtiti.
6 min: Willian whips the free-kick towards Giroud at the near post. The ball comes off a Barcelona player last and drifts just off target. A Chelsea corner. It comes to nothing. But that’s better from the visitors.
5 min: Does Messi’s goal change Chelsea’s task? Not exactly. They needed to score a goal anyway. They still need to score. But it’s looking harder now. Barcelona have settled and Messi is in the mood. This could become a long night for Chelsea, although they look to respond positively here, with Hazard winning a free-kick on the left.
GOAL! Barcelona 1-0 Chelsea (Messi, 3 min; 2-1 agg)
Chelsea, a little too passive, continue to sit off Barcelona. You can see the logic, but it’s a bit too simple for the home side. The ball comes to Messi on the right, 30 yards from goal. He skips past Hazard with ease and tries a one-two with Dembele. The Frenchman’s lay-off bounces off the unfortunate Alonso and falls to Suarez in the area. He prods it through to Messi, who surges in on the right before slipping a low right-footed finish through the legs of Courtois from a tight angle! A wonderful moment of opportunism from Messi, but Courtois won’t be happy with that!
2 min: Barcelona spend a long time stroking the ball around, Chelsea happy to sit off them and remain deep. It takes 90 seconds for a Chelsea player to have a touch and that honour goes to Antonio Rudiger, who slides in to stop Ousmane Dembele surging down the right. But it’s a throw to Barcelona and the pattern continues. And…
Peep! We’re off! Barcelona, in red and blue, get the game underway. Chelsea, all in white, are defending from right to left in the first half.
Here come the teams! The Barcelona anthem is being belted out and the flags are fluttering.There’s just enough time for us to remember the time that John Terry booted Alexis Sanchez up the backside, Ramires scored a delightful chip, Fernando Torres made Gary Neville squeal and, most incredibly of all, Jose Bosingwa delivered an immaculate defensive performance as Roberto Di Matteo’s 10-man Chelsea sent Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona vintage tumbling out of the Champions League six years ago. What a night that was! Can Antonio Conte’s men emulate those heroics here? It won’t be easy. Barcelona still have Lionel Messi. They have Luis Suarez. But Chelsea have form for getting it done. We’ll soon find out if they’re capable of defying the odds again!
Antonio Conte speaks! “I think Giroud played a good game with Hazard and Willian. We have to play against a strong team and for this reason we must be ready to work very hard, especially Eden and Willian. We decided in this way. We think this is the best decision. To face this type of team with players of great experience is very important. Barcelona like to dominate possession and you must be very good to keep calm and be prepared to suffer. As you know very well players don’t like only to run. Players like to have the ball and for this reason we must be ready to suffer when we are without the ball.”
Barcelona make two changes to the team that beat Malaga on the weekend. Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta are in, Paulinho and Philippe Coutinho are out. There’s a more balanced look to their attack with Ousmane Dembele starting. Paulinho started the first leg instead of the Frenchman.
Chelsea have named a bold side. There’s no start for Pedro on his return to his former side, though. Instead Olivier Giroud leads the line here, with Alvaro Morata on the bench and Antonio Conte hoping that the Frenchman will be able to hold the ball up for the visitors. Eden Hazard will be pleased. He really doesn’t like playing as a False Nine. That said, Giroud has tended to struggle against this level of opposition and his lack of mobility might turn out to be a hindrance. Might Pedro have given Chelsea more pace?
Hello. In the grand scheme of things it was hardly the most appalling of errors. There have been worse mistakes in the past, like Robert Green’s fumble at the 2010 World Cup, and worse defensive performances, like the one David Luiz put in against Germany in 2014. But sometimes there are games when you cannot even think about allowing your guard to drop for a millisecond. Sure, if Andreas Christensen had rolled a square pass across his own area last Saturday, then the ball probably would have been spanked into the upper tier of The Shed by Andros Townsend and nobody would have batted an eyelid. You can usually get away with doing that kind of thing against your Crystal Palaces and so on and so forth (no respect to Eagles fans, of course, it’s just that Palace were Chelsea’s opponents on the weekend). But when Christensen played a loose pass to Andres Iniesta just outside Chelsea’s three weeks ago, the punishment was swift and merciless and the complexion of this tie was dramatically altered.
Barcelona had been kept at arm’s length by Antonio Conte’s side for much of the first leg. Chelsea had maintained a deep defence, making sure that the La Liga leaders were forced to settle for slightly room-temperature possession in tepid areas, and they attempted to break with pace, energy and alacrity when they were able to spring forward, Willian and Pedro doing well to support Eden Hazard, Conte’s rebellious False Nine. Willian struck the woodwork twice in the first half before finally picking his spot early in the second, beating Marc-Andre Ter Stegen with a sweet drive from the edge of the area, and at that point Barcelona were looking flustered and sterile, arguably even a little old and in need of renovation as they searched for the spark to pierce Chelsea. Yet the narrative would change. Christensen made one false move, Iniesta set up Lionel Messi and that one glimmer was all the Argentinian needed to silence the chatter about his barren goalscoring record against Chelsea.
More importantly Christensen had allowed Messi to score an away goal for Barcelona – and if you don’t think that was a significant development, why don’t you have a word with Jose Mourinho? It means, of course, that Barcelona can afford to be marginally more relaxed this evening. The onus is on Chelsea to score. A goalless draw takes Barcelona through, which means that Chelsea cannot afford to be negative. They will have to seize the initiative at times, which might mean leaving gaps for Messi to exploit. This might not be the most scintillating Barcelona team of recent memory, but they are efficient and, not to hammer the point too much, they have Messi, who has apparently scored 472 free-kicks since the turn of the year.
But wait! Chelsea don’t necessarily have to win the game! Yes, they have to score. Yes, that will mean they can’t afford to be weird and stand around like they did against Manchester City last week. But mathematics suggests that 1-1 will take them to extra-time and penalties and that 2-2 or better will take them through on away goals. And they’ve drawn 2-2 on this ground before, first in a relatively meaningless group game in 2006, and then in April 2012 when … well, do you really need me to go over what happened on that particular night?
Kick-off: 7.45pm GMT, 8.45pm CET.
Prediction: Barcelona 2-1 Chelsea
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Arsenal are through, Ostersund are out. But it is a magnificent performance from the Swedish side. The biggest credit I can give them is that I genuinely thought at half-time that they could pull off the upset, such was the quality of their play.
A silly error at the beginning of the second half took away their momentum, but it’s still probably the best result in their history.
Humiliation was narrowly averted but, as an audition for Sunday’s League Cup final against Manchester City, Arsenal’s fringe players delivered the footballing equivalent of forgetting all their lines and then falling off the stage in a big heap.
Yes, they did ultimately ensure their place in the last 16 of the Europa League by an aggregate 4-2 scoreline but, having fallen 2-0 down against a club who have been in existence for less time than Arsene Wenger has been Arsenal manager, the wobble was spectacular.
In isolation, a 2-1 defeat on the night was also still among the worst results in Arsenal’s entire history. Ostersunds, after all, are making their debut in European competition and had played this fixture amid limited training due to freezing conditions back home and a break since December in the Swedish league.
It all raises significant questions ahead of Sunday’s final. Alex Iwobi, who hobbled off injured, Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Mohamed Elneny all started here and are realistically in competition for two remaining starting spaces but did nothing to advance their case.
If the sight of numerous empty seats suggested that Arsenal’s fans were either supremely confident or just disinterested in the prospect of facing Ostersunds FK, the 4,500 supporters in the away section told you everything about the enormity of this fixture for their opponents.
It effectively meant that 10 per cent of the population of Ostersund was at The Emirates for what was comfortably the most glamorous match in their history. It created an unusual atmosphere.
The surroundings might all have been familiar to the Arsenal players but most of the noise was for their visitors. The feeling of an away fixture was perhaps also compounded by Arsenal’s generous willingness to play in all blue in the knowledge that Ostersunds FK’s only two kits – red or white – would have clashed with their own home strip.
Arsenal’s initial mindset could also not have been more welcoming. The players seemed somewhere trapped between those who felt they needed only to turn up to win and those who were genuinely nervous.
Complacency appeared to most afflict the experienced players furthest forward. Avoiding injury had perhaps been a priority for those who had a realistic chance to play at Wembley on Sunday and, consequently, the likes of Wilshere, Iwobi, Welbeck and Mohamed Elneny were initially anonymous.
The wider problem was then a centre-back partnership in Rob Holding and Calum Chambers between two players who have long seemed to be struggling with their confidence followed very mixed spells up in the first team.
Add in Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac’s desire to push forward from full-back and Arsenal could scarcely have made themselves more vulnerable.
Ostersunds FK quickly sensed their opportunity and, while the possession statistics might have been in Arsenal’s favour, the best chances were being created by their opponents.
Captain Brwa Nouri was a persistent threat breaking from midfield and, after a move that also involved Jamie Hopcutt – an English midfielder who played previously for Tadcaster Albion in the Northern Premier League – Arsenal were cut wide open.
Nouri, though, just miss-controlled the final pass to spare Arsenal. Ken Sema also had an early sight of goal but his low shot was saved by David Ospina.
Arsenal had been warned but did not heed the danger signals. Holding had wondered forward into a midfield area when Arsenal lost the ball, allowing Hosam Aiesh to gratefully sprint into space between Chambers and Kolasinac before shooting past Ospina.
More dreadful defending followed as soon as the game restarted, with Ken Sema turning Chambers with embarrassing ease before himself shooting past Ospina.
Wenger had included two senior defenders in Shkodran Mustafi and Nacho Monreal on the bench and, whether directly instructed or not, they immediately rose to their feet and began warming up.
Only 23 minutes had been played. Arsenal did then recover some semblance of rhythm for the rest of the half but still scarcely threatened, with Wilshere shooting wastefully over from their best chance following Mkhitaryan’s freekick.
Wenger had clearly decided that his team lacked midfield presence and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who with Elneny had provided such scarce defensive protection, was replaced by Granit Xhaka.
Arsenal did immediately improve and, after Bellerin’s cross was only partially cleared by Ronald Mukiibi, Kolasinac finished emphatically to restore a two goal aggregate cushion.
Wilshere then released Welbeck, whose attempted chip finish was comfortably gathered by Ostersunds goalkeeper Aly Keita. Arsenal had regained some composure but they were still further lapses.
After a towering Hopcutt header, Mukiibi missed an opportunity to further narrow the deficit and, while Elneny and especially Welbeck wasted chances to end the tie, Arsenal never once looked comfortable.
They will take their place in Friday’s draw but this all still somehow felt like a further chapter in the recent football fairytale of Ostersunds FK and their inspirational English manager Graham Potter.
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