UEL: Aubameyang goal helps Arsenal to edge it
This was the game we'd been waiting for; the UEFA Europa League kick off, and it was the English heavyweights Arsenal who came to Hütteldorf for the opening day, no less! Unfortunately, our game against the Gunners had to be played out in front of just 3,000 masked home fans, rather than seeing the sold-out spectacle that everyone deserved for the occasion.
Once again the new boy Marcel Ritzmaier started behind Ercan Kara and Taxi Fountas, who were looking to give us some impetus up front. Further back we lined up with Srdjan Grahovac and Dejan Ljubicic, with a defence comprised of Filip Stojkovic, Max Hofmann and Mateo Barac, as well as Max Ullmann and Kelvin Arase, tasked with patrolling the flanks.
With the game underway, the Green and Whites (in their stunning new European home shirts) got off on the front foot. Kara stole the ball off Gabriel on the edge of the box but saw his shot go wide of the target (10’). The visitors did force Richi Strebinger into a save with a header from David Luiz (15’) but on the whole the home fans could be very satisfied with how we kept Arsenal at bay in the opening phase. The crowning moment almost arrived just before the 20 minute mark, as Fountas and Arase linked up neatly down the right before the latter fed Ritzmaier in the box. "Ritzi" showed a glamorous touch to push the ball goalwards with his heel, but Arsenal stopper Leno reacted to the deflected ball and plucked it from the air just as it looked as though it would creep in. With confidence continuing to grow, we remained mostly on the front foot, and again went close before the interval as Max Ullmann threaded a pass into Kara, who turned on a sixpence in the box and flashed a shot across the face of Leno's goal (42’). It was still goalless at the break, but the Rapid faithful had plenty of reasons be positive with that first half showing.
We came out after the break sensing an opportunity to be in front in the game, and lo and behold, in front we were! Fountas and Ljubicic pushed up into the box to press the Arsenal defence, and Leno’s pass to Luiz deep inside the area was careless, allowing Fountas to steal in and slot home from an angle to give our boys a shock - yet well deserved - advantage. 1-0 (51’)! With the fans in Green and White dreamland, another moment of attacking pressure paid off, but this time when Fountas turned the ball over in a dangerous area, Leno was able to scramble back and save the shot (58’). It was quite a spell from Rapid, but Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta, true to the club's name, brought out the big guns.
On came Aubameyang and Bellerin, and the visitors went up a gear. First Aubameyang hit a free kick over the bar, but with the next set-piece, David Luiz was the only one to meet it, the defender able to head into an empty net for the equaliser (70’). Moments later, the two subs combined with lethal accuracy, as Bellerin served up a peach of an assist for Aubameyang, a chance which Arsenal’s star striker simply couldn’t miss. 2-1 to the Gunners (74’). There had been yet another mix up between Leno and Luiz just seconds before that goal, but once again on that occasion Fountas’ pressure had led to a golden chance, but no second Rapid goal, and we were punished cruelly.
Our boys gave it their all in the closing stages, but it would be fair to say that Arsenal’s qualities told as the time wore on. With hardly any opportunities to show our teeth in attack, we ended up having to accept a narrow defeat. Despite the blow, everyone could see that there were plenty of positives to take from Rapid's daring approach, which almost paid off handsomely. WAC are up next in the league, before we go away to Norway to face Molde with plenty of self-belief in our suitcases!
Photos: GEPA Pictures.
UEFA Europa League, Gruppe B, 1. Game:
SK Rapid - Arsenal FC 1:2 (0:0)
Weststadion, 3.000 Attendance, Ref Kralovec (CZE)
Goals: 1:0 Fountas (51.), 1:1 David Luiz (70.), 1:2 Aubameyang (74.);
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Stojkovic, Hofmann, Barac, Ullmann – Arase (79./Schick), D. Ljubicic, Grahovac, Ritzmaier (88./Knasmüllner) – Kara (76./Kitagawa), Fountas;
Arsenal: Leno – Cedric (61./Bellerin), David Luiz, Gabriel, Kolasinac – Elneny, Partey, Saka (84./Tierney) – Pepe (93./Nelson), Lacazette (84./Willock), Nketiah (61./Aubameyang);
Yellow Cards: Grahovac, Arase, Kara, Ritzmaier; Lacazette, Partey, Nketiah, Leno;