Friday 18 January 2019

Koscielny makes happy return to boost Emery

Arsenal 1 Qarabag 0

Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny (left) waves to the fans at the end of the game. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny (left) waves to the fans at the end of the game. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Sam Dean

It was a measure of the significance of this tie for Laurent Koscielny that the Arsenal captain raised a clenched fist in celebration towards the crowd when he made his way off the pitch in the second half.

A relatively inconsequential home match against a little-known side from Azerbaijan may not have been the stage befitting a player of Koscielny's stature, but in the Frenchman's words this was "much more than just a game" for him.

Having not played since he ruptured his Achilles in May, Koscielny has been battling to regain his fitness and then waiting for his chance to finally play again. In fact, Unai Emery's team selection was arguably the most interesting aspect of a night when the Emirates was only half-full, despite the club saying they had sold more than 58,000 tickets. There was also a place in the side for Mesut Ozil, who marked his return to action - for the first time in a month - with an assist for Alexandre Lacazette, a surprise inclusion ahead of a testing trip to Southampton this weekend.

It helped both Ozil and Koscielny's causes that Qarabag posed minimal threat. The goal came when Ozil picked out Lacazette in the box, where the Frenchman shifted the ball onto his right foot and drilled a powerful shot into the corner.

Alongside Ozil and Lacazette in attack were 19-year-old Eddie Nketiah and 17-year-old Bukayo Saka, while of Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles filled in further back. Emery has been tasked with bringing these youngsters into the first team, and the Europa League has provided them with a good opportunity to show their worth.

Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos is first to the ball. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Arsenal's Sokratis Papastathopoulos is first to the ball. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Eddie Nketiah brushes past Qarabag's Donald Guerrier. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Eddie Nketiah brushes past Qarabag's Donald Guerrier. Photo: Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
Alexandre Lacazette (right) scores Arsenal's only goal of the evening. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Alexandre Lacazette (right) scores Arsenal's only goal of the evening. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

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