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'Our team was so polite, they are gentleman' - Dundalk go through entire Arsenal defeat without conceding a single foul

Arteta's side score three in quick-fire burst to see off League of Ireland visitors

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Joe Willock puts Arsenal’s second goal past Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers at the Emirates last night. Photo: Getty Images

Joe Willock puts Arsenal’s second goal past Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers at the Emirates last night. Photo: Getty Images

Getty Images

Joe Willock puts Arsenal’s second goal past Dundalk keeper Gary Rogers at the Emirates last night. Photo: Getty Images

It would be a stretch to say that Dundalk's players were dreaming of a shock as the clock ticked past 40 minutes at the Emirates Stadium last night.

In truth, they were probably wondering if the half-time whistle was going to come and give them a break from the mental challenge of staying disciplined and frustrating an Arsenal side that was beginning to look a bit miffed.

But the enjoyment was about to be temporarily drained from this glamorous away day. The soft concession of an opener from the kind of dead ball situation they would expect to defend in any venue was the catalyst for the floodgates to open for a costly period.

Gary Rogers' weak attempt to deal with a corner took a deflection off Daniel Cleary and dropped for Eddie Nketiah who gratefully accepted the gift.

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Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe heads the ball under pressure from Dundalk's Daniel Cleary. Photo: PA

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe heads the ball under pressure from Dundalk's Daniel Cleary. Photo: PA

PA

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe heads the ball under pressure from Dundalk's Daniel Cleary. Photo: PA

It broke the resistance of a Dundalk side that had defended stoutly to that point.

Revolutionary

Yes, there was nothing revolutionary about the tactics employed by Filippo Giovagnoli. The Italian switched to a back three that became closer to a back five, with unlikely wing-backs John Mountney and Cameron Dummigan pegged back.

Michael Duffy, a childhood Arsenal fan who took 'Thierry' as a confirmation name out of his admiration for Thierry Henry, was deployed centrally next to Patrick Hoban but the duo were the front line of defence.

Dundalk did try and play the ball out from the back, which led to some hairy moments but also attracted polite praise from Mikel Arteta who noted that the away side stuck with their philosophy rather than lumping it - to be clear this was not the specific term he used.

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Dundalk's Patrick McEleney puts in a challenge against Arsenal's Cedric Soares. Photo: Reuters

Dundalk's Patrick McEleney puts in a challenge against Arsenal's Cedric Soares. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Dundalk's Patrick McEleney puts in a challenge against Arsenal's Cedric Soares. Photo: Reuters

Incredibly, the Irish side managed to go through the entire game without committing a foul.

A positive slant on that is that it was a triumph of temperament and defenders Brian Gartland and Andy Boyle, survivors from the 2016 campaign, showed their savvy.

The alternative take is that this was a very subdued affair and Arsenal were never rattled.

"Our team was so polite, they are gentleman," said Giovagnoli, an ex-defender who admits to chopping a few opponents down in his day.

"They're not going to use other things to stop the opponent."

The approach was unashamedly about containment. Patrick McEleney and Chris Shields did win corners with speculative shots when the match was scoreless, and Dundalk will be frustrated that they didn't make the most of their deliveries.

To concede from that route was a punch to the stomach, and 125 seconds later they were two behind. Dummigan's slack pass was punished by a quick break that emphasised what happens when possession is ceded higher up the park. That said, there was bad luck in the ricochet into the path of Joe Willock who did the rest.

Half-time was needed. A minute from the restart, £72m man Nicolas Pepe found the top corner with an elite-level turn and swivel on a sixpence.

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Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe scores his side's third goal. Photo: Reuters

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe scores his side's third goal. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Arsenal's Nicolas Pepe scores his side's third goal. Photo: Reuters

At this stage, the percentage call was that more pain lingered for Giovagnoli's side but, to their credit, they managed to regroup and ensure that was the end of the goalscoring.

Indeed, to add to the surreal nature of things, the visiting boss even managed to rotate a few options with Sunday's important league meeting with St Patrick's Athletic in mind. Shields and Duffy were both withdrawn for that reason, perhaps a response to the disappointment of losing the luckless McEleney to another injury.

Arsenal, for their part, had no reason to roll out a number of their A-listers with the TV director energised by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette shooting the breeze.

Naturally enough, Arteta was focused on Manchester United on Sunday, the same day that Dundalk go to Inchicore in the hope of qualifying for Europe again following a pretty disastrous year at home by their standards.

In those circumstances, they kept it respectable but from a distance it was hard to conclude that the second 45 was anything more than a vigorous training exercise, with both teams reasonably content with the scoreline.

To engage in deep analysis of the pattern of play would complicate matters; the mission throughout for Dundalk was to stay compact and restrict Arsenal to hopeful efforts and that didn't change even when personnel did.

Dundalk's Twitter account joked that Dani Ceballos and Willian were sent in for 'the craic' but they didn't succeed in adding to their side's tally.

Closed-doors football is draining a certain magic from these encounters, with the club social media accounts holding the monopoly on the pictures and videos for the archives.

Dundalk's players will take away their own memories and at least when the December meeting in Dublin comes around, they won't be fitting it into a cramped schedule.

But the inability to share these experiences with loved ones or even just enjoy the adrenaline boost of backing from their own fans to mark the end of a spell of pressure just gives these occasions an unnatural personality.

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Dundalk manager Filippo Giovagnoli. Photo: Reuters

Dundalk manager Filippo Giovagnoli. Photo: Reuters

REUTERS

Dundalk manager Filippo Giovagnoli. Photo: Reuters

There was admirable application from Dundalk when they could have allowed the heads to drop; but they won't crave patronising, over-the-top praise either

They are solid professionals and knew how to manage proceedings to avoid the type of scoreline that might have attracted unfair grief.

In an ideal world, they would be striving for more than that.

But this level of European football offers limited scope for that grade of fairy tale.

Irish Independent


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