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'There was no looking down on us' - Brian Gartland on humble Arsenal as focus turns to St Pat's


Dundalk's Brian Gartland. Photo: Sportsfile

Dundalk's Brian Gartland. Photo: Sportsfile


Dundalk's Brian Gartland. Photo: Sportsfile

It may rank up there with the most challenging games of his career but Brian Gartland, the veteran defender praised for a stout showing at the Emirates on Thursday, learned afterwards that his distance covered was below his normal average.

He wasn't alone in the Dundalk dressing-room in that regard, a stat which reflects the personality of their Europa League clash with Arsenal.

Gartland, who turns 34 next Wednesday, was operating in a low defensive block, shuffling from side to side rather than pressing on.

There is personal pride in how he performed in the 3-0 defeat, although his initial reaction when he left the pitch at full-time was to reflect on minor errors.

Still, Gartland jokes that he wasn't even guaranteed action in Leinster Senior Cup games earlier this year, pointing out that there were people he'd worked with for years that had written him off: "It's a complete turnaround."

Thursday's joust with Mikel Arteta's squad players was more mentally draining than physically exacting so he has no fears about his readiness for tomorrow's league encounter with St Patrick's Athletic.


Filippo Giovagnoli was in a curious situation in London where he was withdrawing players from the glamour tie with Inchicore in mind. Like the entire Dundalk camp, Gartland was struck by the attitude of their hosts.

"There was no arrogance out of them at all, from the whole club in how they treated us" he said. "In terms of the respect we were given from when we arrived, it was that, 'You are professional, you are here to play us.' There was no looking down on us.

"There was none of that from their players their game. What I actually liked was that (Shkodran) Mustafi and (Sead) Kolašinac were getting a bit p***ed off during some of the set pieces. They weren't just taking it lightly."

On the pitch, he was impressed by Reiss Nelson, a low-profile operator in an Arsenal context.

"Early on, he's out my side and I'm realising he's got lightning quick feet. It was just the speed of him. Touch, touch, touch. He was coming in between me and John Mountney and you realise you've got to stay goalside and stand up, you can't just be throwing a leg out," he explains, noting that it became easier when he grasped Nelson's strong preference for his right foot.

As the game progressed, Joe Willock became a stronger threat, relentlessly coming back for more, while Willian's quality when introduced was unsurprising.

Overall, they were a different type of opponent to the European norm as they didn't operate with a number ten.

"There wasn't a lot of centrally in terms of where our number six (Chris Shields) would operate. Usually in Europe - like with Molde last week - there's always a technical number ten that there is orchestrating a lot and dragging the centre halves out."

Arsenal left space there and instead relied on quick bursts down the sides that placed pressure on Dundalk's ability to defend their box. Giovagnoli's team went through the game without committing a foul.

Gartland concedes he got away with two, yet confesses to mixed feelings about the unusual blank. Ignoring the temptation to dive in to tackles around the box required impressive discipline, but he said the break for the hosts' second goal could have been halted by a cynical intervention.

"It was mentioned in the dressing room afterwards," he says, "There's two ways of looking at it.

"Some people will be going over the top saying you need to be nasty. But there's an element of both needed. We are open in possession and trying to be brave and play and there will be times where you give the ball away, like for the second goal, where you need to haul someone down. It might not be even be a yellow. We know that you need to do that sometimes - especially in Europe.

"But then, on the other side of it, with the majority of Arsenal's possession, they had us penned back. I was in dangerous positions for the majority of the game. We limited their opportunities by not diving in. You can think positively about it in that regard. If you're giving away frees around your own box it's a risk and that's where the ball was for the majority of the game."

There was a niggling fear around how the game might go on account of Dundalk's ropey form this year and realism when it comes to the gulf in resources. Dundalk also only had two days to really work on the new shape they employed on account of their league commitments.

"If you're realistic about football, which I always aim to be, then you were thinking this could go any way," he admits.

So there was satisfaction in leaving the stadium with positive energy they hope to channel into the Pat's encounter with Dundalk looking to secure a European spot for 2021, although Gartland is part of the dozen strong out-of-contract contingent unclear where they stand.

A win would allow full focus on next Thursday's date with Rapid Vienna.

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