Arsenal 1 FK Qarabag 0
Lacazette 16

Arsenal finished their Europa League group phase with a routine 1-0 win over FK Qarabag at the Emirates stadium. Alexandre Lacazette latched onto Mesut Ozil’s pass after the Gunners re-gained possession deep in the opponents half to strike hard and low past Vagner for the only goal of the game. Unai Emery made nine changes to the starting eleven with the youthful energy of 17 year old Bukayo Saka in particular proving that the Arsenal academy system is doing some great work. Joe Willock shone in midfield, as did Eddie Nketiah and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. After a five match absence due to a back spasm, Mesut Ozil returned as did Laurent Koscienly for his first start since rupturing his Achilles in last season’s Europa League semi-final loss to Atletico Madrid last May. Mohammed Elneny and Carl Jenskinson provided some experience as did Sokratis who will miss Sunday’s trip to Southampton due to suspension.

Nketiah was unlucky not to have doubled the Gunners’ tally when heading home from a neat move and cross from Saka. The ball nestled in Vagner’s net, but the assistant referee raised his flag for an offside which proved marginal at best. Saka himself did find the target from Nketiah’s cross but this time Vagner was able to make the save at much pain to himself. Arsenal however were already assured of the Group E top spot and as such will avoid the teams who dropped down from the Champions League which include Inter Milan, Napoli and Valencia. They will also play the second leg at home. The first leg will take place on 14th February, with the return leg seven days later.

Emery will have been pleased to see Koscielny come through the 72 minutes he was on the pitch and especially given that Rob Holding is out for the season. Nacho Monreal came on for Koscieny and that too will bode well for the Gunners’ defence. The Gunners Head Coach normally reserves praise for the whole team, but on this occasion he gave Saka a big vote for confidence.

“Every young player, we have the responsibility to give them chances, first to train with us and to be demanding with their performances,” he said. “We give them these chances in the games like today, when we can do that. They show us in every match positive things,” said Emery who also praised the night’s work of Willock and Nketiah.

Getting Saka some game time might be an interesting decision, and hopefully Emery will decide against sending him on loan.

“He played with a very big personality and sometimes with a very good performance. It’s very important for his confidence and for us also, because we can look at this player and see quality to help us.

“Today Saka also played with a good performance, with a very big personality and we were speaking at half-time. His personality is very important for us to continue trying to go 1v1 and break lines with his quality.

Next up sees Arsenal travel to Southampton on Sunday and then the Carabao Cup quarter-final and another repeat of the north London derby when Spurs come calling next Wednesday.