Arsenal have booked their place in the last 16 of the Europa League, but they have done so in the least impressive manor conceivable.
The Gunners, up against Swedish side Östersunds, carried a 3-0 advantage into the second-leg meeting at the Emirates, which should have been a precession for the Premier League team, only to find themselves 2-0 down at half-time and beaten 2-1 on the night.
Östersunds, however, more than lived up to their side of the bargain, ambitiously attacking their hosts at every opportunity and refusing to believe they were beaten until the death.
It wasn’t a night to remember for the sparse crowd inside the Emirates, but Arsenal can now look forward to the last-16 draw.
Here are the five things we learned as Östersunds upset Arsenal, even though the Gunners prevailed 4-2 on aggregate.
After impressing in the first leg, earning a comfortable, authoritative 3-0 victory over their underdog opponents in Sweden, it just wouldn’t have been Arsenal if they hadn’t made things difficult for themselves in the return fixture.
The Gunners, particularly in the latter years of Arsène Wenger’s reign, seldom like to make things easy for themselves – and with a modicum of concentration, discipline and poise, this would have been easy for the home side.
Instead, Arsenal went in at the break 2-0 down to Östersunds, trailing thanks to two goals in close succession, both eminently preventable and both indicative of a distinct lack of focus on the Gunners’ behalf.
Kolašinac’s 47th-minute strike, thumping home from close range after Arsenal returned from the interval displaying a much more acceptable level of application (for a few minutes at least), all but ensured Arsenal’s passage to the last 16.
While Östersunds deserve immense credit for rattling Wenger’s men, Arsenal will need to significantly up their game if they are to go any further in Europe’s secondary club competition.
Plucky Östersunds Carried the Fight
It might seem patronising to use adjectives such as “plucky” or “brave” or “fearless” to describe Östersunds’ performance at the Emirates, a little too much like a condescending ruffle of the hair for showing great effort in the face of an impossible task.
But the qualitative gap between the two sides was stark and difficult to ignore; the away side’s touch less refined, their technique not as sharp.
They more than made up for this with their organisation, adventure and endeavour, though, which is to the credit of their manager English manager, Graham Potter.
Östersunds made life uncomfortable for Arsenal for 90 minutes, sticking to their task long after Kolašinac’s goal extinguished any realistic hope of an upset.
Frail Gunners Backline
Once considered among the finest English defensive prospects, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding once again put in the kind of performances that showed just how disappointingly their development has stalled at the Emirates.
Chambers was particularly below par. The first goal deflected in off the 23-year-old former Southampton man, and looks as though it will go down as an own goal; and the second saw him turned far too easily inside the penalty area by Ken Sema, who fired confidently into the far corner to put the visitors two up.
Holding and Chambers are not Arsenal‘s primary central defensive duo, of course, but they no longer have the excuse of inexperience and should be much more reliable in such encounters.
Welbeck Misses Chance
With Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cup-tied and Alexandre Lacazette injured, Danny Welbeck was afforded a rare chance to led the line for Arsenal, offered the opportunity to stake a claim for more minutes in his favoured central role with the £100million-plus pair unavailable.
But the England forward fluffed his lines, showing a lack of a clinical touch inside the penalty area, undermining his usual good movement and work ethic.
Early in the second half, Welbeck elected to try and lob an improbable finish over goalkeeper Aly Keita when a driven effort might have yielded a better outcome, and late on he blasted straight at the keeper from 15 yards; the fact the inverse of his shot selection might have seen him claim a brace is an indictment on the 27-year-old’s decision-making in front of goal.
Europa League Still Arsenal’s Great Hope
Arsenal hardly convinced in their 4-2 aggregate victory over Östersunds, but they are through. The same cannot be said of Napoli, Athletic Bilbao, Real Sociedad, Nice, Celtic and Atalanta, who all crashed out.
Even Borussia Dortmund, who saw off Atalanta and are one of the favourites to lift the trophy come May, stuttered, needing a late Marcel Schmelzer goal to progress.
Sixth in the Premier League and looking increasingly less likely to break into the top four, the Europa League remains Arsenal’s best hope of Champions League qualification; maybe in the next round they’ll show it.