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Friday, September 29, 2017

BATE Borisov 2-4 Arsenal: Talking points as young Guns impress

Arsenal secured a 4-2 victory over BATE Borisov in the Europa League, but what were the main talking points?
Theo Walcott put Arsenal two goals up at the Borisov Arena, with Rob Holding adding a third before Olivier Giroud scored his 100th goal for the club from the penalty spot.
From Jack Wilshere's impressive performance to the defensive lapses which allowed BATE to reduce the deficit, here are the key themes from the game.
Wilshere started the season on the fringes of Arsenal's squad but he is making a strong case for a more prominent role in Arsene Wenger's plans. The 25-year-old was excellent on only his second start of the campaign, enjoying plenty of freedom to roam forwards in the No10 role.
His first-half performance was brimming with invention. There was an eye-of-the-needle pass to release Walcott in the eighth minute, and shortly after that he set up his fellow countryman's opening goal with a surging run and a deft cross following a neat one-two with Giroud.
Wilshere was invariably at the heart of Arsenal's attacks, providing the perfect foil for Giroud in and around the box and picking holes in BATE's defence with his incisive through balls. The stats showed he didn't misplace a single pass until the dying moments of the first half, with BATE reduced to fouling him as they struggled to keep up.
And while Wilshere faded slightly after the break, he has now completed 90 minutes in his last two Arsenal appearances for the first time since September 2014. Wenger's side have lacked creativity and cutting edge from midfield ever since Santi Cazorla was laid low by injury last year. Could a reinvigorated Wilshere be the solution?
Wenger threw down the gauntlet to Arsenal's young players before the game. "You do not get 10 opportunities to play for Arsenal," he said. "When you get it, even if they only get 20 minutes, you have to convince people you have the qualities to do it and you have the courage to play."
Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson did just that. The former, a rangy 18-year-old whose older brother, Chris, departed Arsenal for Benfica in the summer, produced an assured performance alongside Mohamed Elneny at the base of midfield, distributing the ball calmly and making more tackles and interceptions combined than any of his team-mates.
Nelson was just as impressive. There has been a buzz of excitement around the 17-year-old since his first-team breakthrough in pre-season, and he looked at ease against BATE despite playing out of position at right wing-back. There was skill and ambition in the way he attacked, and he might have finished the game with an assist if it wasn't for Giroud's wasteful finishing.
At 20 years old and with a season on loan at Ipswich Town behind him, Maitland-Niles was the most experienced of Arsenal's young starters. He was caught out of position on a couple of occasions and might have done more to prevent the first goal, but like Nelson, he is not a natural wing-back, and Wenger will be encouraged by his attacking play.
The evening brought a major landmark for Giroud, who had been stuck on 99 Arsenal goals since the opening day of the season. The Frenchman has had plenty of critics during his time in north London, but his penalty made him only the 19th player in Arsenal's history to reach three-figures. He has managed it in fewer games than Robin van Persie and Dennis Bergkamp.
Giroud faces a fight to regain his starting spot in the Premier League after Alexandre Lacazette's flying start to life at Arsenal, but this was a reminder that he is certainly a potent back-up option. The 30-year-old led the line effectively at the Borisov Arena, linking play with his back to goal and allowing Walcott and Wilshere to run in behind.
If there was one negative for Wenger, it was the sloppy defending which allowed BATE to keep themselves in the game. Arsenal's back three included plenty of experience with Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding flanking Per Mertesacker, but they looked less than comfortable under pressure.
Holding was easily beaten by right-back Aleksey Rios for BATE's first goal, with Mustafi and Mertesacker failing to pick up Mirko Ivanic from the cross. The former Bolton man then lost his footing for the second as Arsenal's poor marking was punished again.
BATE finished the game with more shots on goal than Arsenal and might have reduced the deficit further if it wasn't for their profligacy. Mustafi is the only member of the back three likely to keep his place against Brighton on Sunday, but the lack of concentration will have concerned Wenger nonetheless.