Qarabag FK 0 Arsenal 3
Sokratis 4, Smith-Rowe 53, Guendouzi 79

Arsenal triumphed for the eighth consecutive game in all competitions when Sokratis, Emile Smith-Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi first Arsenal strikes saw off Qarabag FK  3-0 in Baku. The much changed Gunners had to come through a tough Europa League examination in a hostile but lively stadium where the final of this year’s competition will also take place. Unai Emery made nine changes from the side which saw off Watford last weekend. Rob Holding, Sokratis and Nacho Monreal were at the back for a three man defence, with Stephan Lichsteiner and Sean Kolasinac providing the width. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitaryan didnt travel for health and political reasons respectively. The latter’s Armenian nationality would not have been well received in the host nation which is still in territorial disputes with Armenia. Emery who has won the Europa League three times, named a strong substitutes bench where Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette, Mesut Ozil, Lucas Torreira, Shkodran Mustafi and Granit Xhaka awaited involvement.

Having looked comfortable in the initial stages, Arsenal took the lead after just four minutes. Mohamed Elneny’s corner was met with a firm Monreal header which then came off Sokratis, sending Vagner the wrong way. The home crowd were silenced for while, but soon found their voices as Qarabag turned on the style with some neat flicks, although Bernd Leno was not really threatened. Zoubir and Mahir Madatov did threaten, the latter after a fine dribbling run. Arsenal should have doubled their lead when Smith-Rowe started the move which saw him narrowly fail to connect to Kolasinac’s low cross.

1-0 up at the break, Arsenal switched to a back four to combat the Qarabag sorties as Monreal made way for Torreira. The Gunners doubled their lead eight minutes after the re-start, and what a goal. Danny Welbeck won a header deep in away half to release Alex Iwobi. He saw Smith-Rowe wide to his right and racing past him into the area, for the 18 year old to nutmeg Vagner from 6 yards out and his first Arsenal goal.

The goal was particularly pleasing for the Arsenal coaching system as both Smith-Rowe and Iwobi, are graduates of the Arsenal Hale End academy.

Ozil’s introduction for Smith-Rowe was widely cheered by all in the stadium as well as Arsenal’s 200 travelling contingent which included an Arsenal fans’ group from Iran. Lacazette then came on for Iwobi and the France striker was the architect of Arsenal’s third goal.

Welbeck won back possession deep in own half to release Ozil. He switched play to Lacazette left of the Qarabag area. Lacazette then found Guendouzi 20 yards out who took one touch then struck low down for his first Arsenal goal.

The win was well deserved and Arsenal’s winning momentum had Emery all smiles, but he praised the Qarabag efforts.

“Yes, each match for us is not easy. Firstly, because when we are playing away, we are playing against a good team like Qarabag today. Good players also and with a very great ambition and excited to play against us. Their mobility, their quality in above all the first half, I think we suffered in the match. But I want to suffer. I want to not find easy matches, like today. Then, in our moments, to show you and show them our possibilities, our quality and our organised moments. I think in the 90 minutes today, the team worked very well.”

With Smith-Rowe catching the eye, Emery was at pains to stress that he will give his young players the opportunity.

“Well, first I think that every player needs to feel that we have the option to give them chances an an opportunity to play with us. Above all, the players with us, they are coming from the academy and today they are here. Deyan Illiev is here also, Eddie Nketiah is here also, and also is Joe Willock. We want to give them (opportunities) but also they earned their moments in the pitch because, in pre-season for example, Emile Smith Rowe worked very well with us.

“He knows how we want to play and he is very humble to continue improving and progressing with us and in every training and match, like today. I said to him, after he left the match, that before he had one action and with ambition, he can go inside the box and score more.”

Arsenal will return to London tonight, and with Friday a rest day, Emery will have his side in for training on Saturday ahead of the lunchtime kick off at Fulham. Keeping the winning momentum going into this London derby will be high on Arsenal’s priorities.