Tuesday 25 June 2019

Jittery Arsenal notch first away win of year

Huddersfield Town 1 Arsenal 2

Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette is mobbed by teammates after scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette is mobbed by teammates after scoring his side's second goal. Photo: Getty Images

Tim Nash

Arsenal's travel sickness is one reason they lag behind in the race for the top four, so they will take heart from their first away win in the league since November.

But this was not a commanding performance, even if their victory looked likely from the moment Alex Iwobi put them in front early in the first half. Alexandre Lacazette doubled their lead just before the break, but Arsenal endured jittery moments before Adama Diakhaby's shot was bundled in by a combination of Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac for the hosts in stoppage time.

Huddersfield's Mathias Zanka Jorgensen and Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette. Photo: Getty Images
Huddersfield's Mathias Zanka Jorgensen and Arsenal's Alexandre Lacazette. Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal had chances to score more and might have done so if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had not, like Mesut Özil, been off sick.

Huddersfield's first-choice goalkeeper, Jonas Lössl, had talked defiantly on the eve of this game about staging a sensational late escape from relegation, reckoning that a haul of around 24 points from their remaining 13 matches would see the Yorkshire club reach safety. But Lössl, too, fell ill overnight so was not available to play here. If that was not an omen, then the fact that his replacement, Ben Hamer, bungled to help Iwobi open the scoring certainly did not augur well for Huddersfield's hopes of getting their first points since Jan Siewert's arrival as manager.

Huddersfield, six points adrift at the bottom and 13 points from safety, are not quite as bad as the table suggests. In fact, they showed against Arsenal that they are tantalisingly close to being competitive, except for the not exactly trifling issue of lacking quality in both boxes, especially when attacking.

They caused enough trouble to Arsenal in general play to have Unai Emery roaring and gesticulating frantically from the sidelines for much of the first half. For all that, the hosts did not pick ways through Arsenal's three centre-backs very often, whereas Arsenal looked dangerous nearly every time they tore forward.

Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Huddersfield's Jonathan Hogg battle for possession. Photo: Getty Images
Arsenal's Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Huddersfield's Jonathan Hogg battle for possession. Photo: Getty Images

Three times in the first 10 minutes the visitors threatened to take the lead. Terence Kongolo thwarted Lacazette with a last-gasp tackle in the eighth minute, and two minutes later Iwobi blasted into the side-netting after being teed up by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who regularly made inroads from his position of right wing-back.

There was no reprieve for Huddersfield in the 16th minute when Arsenal caught them out with a quick free-kick on halfway, Kolasinac, the other wing-back, sent scurrying down the left before flighting a cross to the far post. Iwobi met it with a weak volley from 10 yards but the ball found its way into the net as Hamer reacted too slowly to a slight deflection off Kongolo.

Huddersfield responded well, Jonathan Hogg, Aaron Mooy and Juninho Bacuna regularly getting the better of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira in midfield. The hosts could have been awarded a penalty in the 25th minute when one of their corners was only half-cleared and Jason Puncheon's shot from 20 yards was blocked by Laurent Koscielny's right hand. The referee put his whistle to his mouth but did not blow.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan, returning to action for the first time since before Christmas, looked sharp when he got the ball, zooming forward like a shark through water. He could have finished the attack he led in the 39th minute but was denied by Hamer, who saved his shot from 12 yards after Huddersfield had been cut open by his one-two with Maitland-Niles.

No matter, Arsenal increased their lead six minutes later anyway, Mkhitaryan again feeding the overlapping Maitland-Niles, whose low cross presented the unmarked Lacazette with an easy close-range finish.

Now Huddersfield needed to score twice, a feat they have managed just once in the league this season. No wonder Emery started to look more relaxed, although he still felt the need to replace Torreira with Mohamed Elneny in an attempt to gain more control in central midfield.

Arsenal should have inflicted more misery on their hosts. Mkhitaryan invited Iwobi to do so in the 70th minute, but the midfielder lacked ruthlessness and Hamer was able to save. Bernd Leno was forced to make his first difficult save in the 72nd minute, when he made rather a meal of stopping a low drive from 18 yards by Diakhaby. No Huddersfield player was on hand to punish him when the Arsenal 'keeper spilled it.

Huddersfield have never been short of spirit, at least, and they forced Arsenal on to the back foot as they searched for their first goal since January 2. Laurent Depoitre went close with a shot on the run, and Monreal had to clear off the line after a scramble in the Arsenal box. Diakhaby finally helped break through in the dying moments, clipping over Leno after being put through by Mooy and despite Monreal's and Kolasinac's efforts to clear that only resulted in the ball going in.

Observer

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