Monday 19 February 2018

Sanchez to the rescue as Gunners fight back lops humiliated

Arsenal 3 Cologne 1

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring his side's second goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Jack Pitt-Brooke

After a night of chaos around the Emirates, some order was at least restored on the stadium's pitch - right down to Alexis Sanchez getting his first goal since being forced to stay at Arsenal.

His key second-half strike finally gave the club a 3-1 win on their first match back in Europe's second-tier competition for more than 17 years, with that rally a delayed response to Cologne going ahead early on, to go with the delayed kick-off.

Arsenal's comeback and the Arsene Wenger half-time tactical change that brought it still shouldn't prevent some questions about the performance, just as the calmer end to the evening won't prevent an inquisition into how it was that so many visiting fans got so many tickets and created such a situation that the match was put back by an hour.

Relief

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere in action with FC Koln's Marco Hoger. Photo: David Klein/Reuters
Arsenal's Jack Wilshere in action with FC Koln's Marco Hoger. Photo: David Klein/Reuters

Either way, given how bad this night could have gone in so many senses, it will be a relief all-round and thereby almost feel like one of those respectable European away wins.

It certainly felt like an away match for Arsenal for some of the game, such was the sound the estimated 20,000 Cologne fans were making.

You could quickly tell for more reasons than the commotion in the stands that this was one of the biggest nights in Cologne's recent history, that this was why so many fans had travelled.

Their players, to give them their due, fully reflected and were emboldened by that feeling too.

There was an assertiveness about their football from the start, a willingness to take over the pitch just as their fans had tried to take over the stadium.

It was displayed with the first meaningful action of the game, when Jhon Cordoba scored with a speculative shot on just 10 minutes.

Arsenal's Hector Bellerin celebrates scoring his side's third goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters
Arsenal's Hector Bellerin celebrates scoring his side's third goal. Photo: John Sibley/Reuters

Once the opportunity was presented by David Ospina's surge out of his to try and clear the ball, there was no hesitation from the Cologne striker. He just went for it - just like his team.

It paid off in glorious fashion, thanks to an exceptionally executed long-range strike.

Arsenal were initially meek in response to that kind of snapping, but soon looked to get back in the game through the bluntest manner possible: balls swung in for the head of Olivier Giroud.

He got three such chances in the first half, but they were either saved or weakly sent wide.

Some of this was at that point of course a consequence of Wenger selecting a weaker Arsenal side, and it was little surprise then that most of the play was being built through the existing understanding between Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin.

When Walcott was put through on 23 minutes, though, he skewed his chance wide. It was looking like that kind of night.

As everything seemed to be petering out at one end, there was a crackle of electricity every time Cologne went forward at the other.

That energy also created chaos in the Arsenal box around the half-hour when a supreme ball into the box by Leonardo Bittencourt forced David Ospina into a lunge. He clumsily brought down Jonas Hector, but the assistant referee already had his flag up.

Wenger simply had to change something about his side and, to give him his due too, he did definitively act.

The Arsenal boss went to four at the back at half-time, and they immediately went to 1-1.

With Sead Kolasinac now on as a sub and at left-back rather than left centre-half, he was given licence to get up the pitch.

It meant he was in prime position when a deflected Walcott cross dropped near the corner of the 18-yard box. Kolasinac didn't actually let it drop to the ground, though, as he thumped a volley past Timo Horn.

The goalkeeper had no chance against that, and shouldn't have had a chance when Ainsley Maitland-Niles was put through for a one-on-one on 64 minutes, but did brilliantly to get out and down quickly to close the angle.

In all of this, Sanchez was fairly quiet, other than when he was making what seemed regular complaints to the bench.

That would have raised a lot of questions about why he was still here, why the club were putting up with him - until he showed them exactly why.

On 67 minutes, he curled in that glorious strike to make it 2-1.

An exhausted Cologne had by then put too much into their earlier efforts, leaving Arsenal to eventually put the team out of their misery, as Bellerin slid in the third on 82 minutes.

The Cologne fans were at that point still singing on a night they had long waited for, even if that meant it was a night they had also made so much longer. (© Independent News Service)

 

Silva on fire for Milan

Andre Silva scored a hat-trick as AC Milan began their Europa League campaign by thrashing Austria Vienna 5-1 in Vienna.

Milan, who are competing in Europe for the first time in four years, paid Porto €38m for Silva as part of a massive €200m summer spending spree.

New recruit Hakan Calhanoglu put them ahead with a thumping drive, while former Liverpool player Suso netted the fifth after Silva’s treble.

Turkish midfielder Calhanoglu – bought for €25m from Bayer Leverkusen – ran the game for Vincenzo Montella’s side, providing two assists in addition to his goal.

Ex-Norwich and Hull striker Dieumerci Mbokani was on the scoresheet for Dynamo Kiev as they defeated Albanian side Skenderbeu 3-1, while Hoffenheim – beaten by Liverpool in the Champions League play-off round – lost 2-1 to Braga.

In Group C, Villarreal scored twice in the last 15 minutes to beat  Kazakhstan’s Astana 3-1.

Irish Independent

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