UEL: No upset in London as Rapid go down at Arsenal
It was a game of contrasts from the off as group leaders Arsenal welcomed us to the Emirates Stadium on match day 5 of the UEFA Europa League. For The Gunners it was their first game with spectators in attendance for many months, and in front of 2000 home fans we knew we’d need to spring a surprise if we were to get a result. That surprise certainly came in the form of a new look starting XI for Rapid, with only 3 starters from the Vienna Derby beginning in London. That meant Richi Strebinger, Mario Sonnleitner, Yusuf Demir, Lion Schuster, Deni Alar, Koya Kitagawa and several others got some valuable playing time. Taxi Fountas was unwell and didn't make the trip to the English capital.
Right from the opening whistle, Arsenal seemed determined to put their Premier League struggles behind them: We gave up possession in midfield, the hosts broke quickly and Lacazette slammed a swerving shot into the net from 30 yards for 1-0 (10’). Pepe was then able to glide down the wing all too easily before delivering a cross for the head of Mustafi, who thankfully headed wide from inside the area (13’).
With our team under constant pressure, it wasn't long until we were two behind: Pablo Mari rose highest from a corner, and headed in off the back post (17’). Not even half an hour had gone by when Arsenal came close to extending their advantage once more. Lacazette’s low shot rebounded off the post (27’), before Maitland-Niles ran through the defence and curled his finish just wide (30’). Shortly before the break the third goal did unfortunately come, after some crisp passing led to Pepe teeing up Nketiah from close range. His initial effort was well saved by Strebinger, but the rebound was followed up quickest by Nketiah himself who then headed in (44’) for a 3-0 lead at the break.
With a desire to at least push back against the Arsenal onslaught in the second period, Rapid switched things up a bit. Mateo Barac and Thorsten Schick were introduced, but it was the change of philosophy which paid off rather than just the personnel switch. Our first real attacking moments of the game led to a barrage of shots on goal: Yusuf Demir's cross came to Kelvin Arase, and at close range with the keeper beaten, his shot was blocked by Kolasinac near the goal line, as was the follow up! Just as we felt that was the best chance missed, somehow the blocked ball fell to Kitagawa who volleyed in from further out! 3-1 (47’). Our rally lasted a little longer and led to a Demir free kick, but he was too far out to cause problems (50’). Nonetheless, it was a positive sign from our boys in Green and White.
After that release from Arsenal pressure, the tide turned back in their favour. Richi Strebinger had to get down to another Lacazette shot (58’), before a double chance for Pepe and Maitland-Niles in which they were almost toying with the Rapid defence, but failed to score (59’). Nketiah was the next to have a go as he slid narrowly wide from a square ball (65’), and then some good link up play saw Maitland-Niles serve the ball on a platter for Smith Rowe to slot in for 4-1 (66’). With the result no longer in any doubt, it was just about showing some character and pride, and so once again we pushed forward to the Arsenal goal. Leo Greiml was the man who came closest with a header over the bar (75’).
In the closing stages, Strebinger had to tip a Ceballos free kick over (80’), and substitute Balogun missed the target with a volley. In the end it was a defeat that was probably to be expected, especially given the high tempo of the match. What’s most important is that we’re still in the running on match day 6, and we can now concentrate on what will be the decider against Molde in Hütteldorf next Thursday.
Photos: GEPA Pictures.
UEFA Europa League, Matchday 5:
Arsenal FC - SK Rapid 4:1 (3:0)
Emirates-Stadium, 2.000 Attendance, Ref Petrescu (ROU)
Goals: 1:0 (10.) Lacazette, 2:0 (18.) Mari, 3:0 (44.) Nketiah, 3:1 (47.) Kitagawa, 4:1 (66.) Smith Rowe
Arsenal: Runarsson – Soares, Mustafi (70. Chambers), Mari, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles – Nelson (63. Willian), Pepe, Elneny (63. Ceballos) – Nketiah (81. Balogun), Lacazette (63. Smith Rowe)
SK Rapid: Strebinger – Sonnleitner, Hofmann (46. Barac), Greiml – Arase, Demir, Schuster, Ritzmaier (66. Knasmüllner), Ullmann (46. Schick) – Kitagawa (65. Kara), Alar (77. Sulzbacher);
Yellow Cards: Elneny, Mustafi; Ullmann, Sonnleitner