Early Walcott brace fire Gunners to victory in Borisov
BATE BORISOV 2 ARSENAL 4
An under-strength Arsenal XI survived a late fightback from BATE Borisov to secure a 4-2 victory that keeps them on course to progress in the Europa League.
In a game of little quality beyond the superb Jack Wilshere, it was goals from the recalled trio of Theo Walcott, Rob Holding and Olivier Giroud - with his 100th Gunners goal - who sealed all three points at the Borisov Arena in Belarus as much as David Ospina's goalkeeping.
Arsene Wenger had retained only Mohamed Elneny and Skodran Mustafi from the team that on Monday defeated West Brom 2-0, handing rare starts to Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, while Joseph Willock made his senior debut.
It was the experienced defence of Per Mertesacker, Mustafi and Holding that regardless proved consistently vulnerable, but with Ospina impressive and BATE so disorganised, Arsenal were left top of Group H with the maximum six points from their two openers.
Play had yet to develop any sort of pattern when Wilshere's through-ball sent Walcott clear, from where the forward struck the post when shooting with the outside of his right foot, retrieved the rebound, and then saw his next effort blocked.
Almost immediately after that in the ninth minute, Wilshere played a one-two with Giroud to beat three defenders and then square a cross towards Walcott, who after watching Denis Scherbitski save his header, routinely finished the rebound.
The erratic hosts did not pose any sort of threat until Igor Stasevich broke down the left and Mertesacker unconvincingly cleared his cross to the edge of the area, where Mirko Ivanic struck well on the bounce but sent his effort just beyond the left post.
If that appeared any sort of platform to build upon, it swiftly meant little when in the 22nd minute, BATE goalkeeper Scherbitski sloppily passed the ball under minimal pressure to Walcott, gifting him the close-range finish with which he scored.
Another masterful through-ball from Wilshere had put Maitland-Niles in before his cross was cleared for a 25th-minute corner, when again BATE too easily conceded.
Holding had been near-static in front of goal when Walcott's delivery was nodded on by Mertesacker and it struck his shin and went inside the near, left post.
Only three minutes later, from Aleksei Rios' cross from the right wing, the free Ivanic then sent a powerful header looping beyond David Ospina and into the roof of the net.
For a period Arsenal remained uncertain, but by half-time Walcott had been denied his hat-trick by a save from Scherbitski, and Holding had struck the post with another close-range effort, again exposing BATE's vulnerabilities.
They were perhaps fortunate three minutes into the second half when Stanislav Dragun conceded a penalty for a routine tug on Mustafi's shirt.
From it, the largely-quiet Giroud scored his 100th goal for the club, showing his composure to stroke into the bottom-left corner as Scherbtiski dived to the right.
Even then, owing partly to their inexperience and Wilshere's advanced role when he could have offered direction from central midfield, Arsenal's lack of shape gave their hosts further opportunities.
It was in the 68th minute when poor defending gifted Ivanic another header that tested Ospina and forced the goalkeeper to parry to Gordeichuk, who then struck from directly in front of goal.
Further nervy periods were to follow as Ospina produced further saves before - with Edward Nketiah given his debut from the bench - the visitors closed out victory.