Arsenal have one foot in the last 16 of the Europa League after winning 3-0 away to Ostersunds FK on Thursday evening.
Nacho Monreal scored early before Sotirios Papagiannopoulos turned the ball past his own goalkeeper midway through the first half as the Swedish side made a nervy start.
Although Graham Potter’s men grew into the game, Mesut Ozil added a third just before the hour mark to all but end the tie and the home side even spurned the chance to score from the penalty spot in stoppage time.
Here, we pick out five talking points from the game…
Will Arsenal win this trophy?
Given that the Gunners are cut adrift of their rivals in the Premier League and Champions League qualification would appear to hinge on their efforts in this tournament, these games have taken on greater significance. Arsene Wenger has stressed that he takes all matches seriously but the focus should surely be on winning a first European trophy as Arsenal boss.
The Europa League was enough to salvage Manchester United’s season last term but it could prove a trickier assignment for Wenger. Napoli are the Serie A leaders and Atletico Madrid have reached two of the last four Champions League finals. Both loom large along with Borussia Dortmund, AC Milan and many more. It will be tough but it will define Arsenal’s season.
Should Arsenal now rotate?
Somewhat ironically given the importance that the Europa League has assumed for Wenger, this result has now opened up the opportunity to rest players for the second leg of the tie next week. That could boost Arsenal’s chances of lifting another piece of silverware given that Manchester City await them in the Carabao Cup final a week on Sunday.
Arsenal vs Man City
February 25, 2018, 3:30pm
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Pep Guardiola’s team have a clear week prior to that game at Wembley so a difficult first leg in freezing conditions could have left Wenger in the awkward position of having to pick a full-strength Arsenal side for the return game despite the final being just days away. The chance to rotate is a welcome one and Wenger will be expected to take it.
New role for Maitland-Niles?
One man entitled to expect another run out is Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He has had his chances to play on the left side of defence this season and has impressed but here he was back in his favoured role, making his first competitive start in the centre of midfield since appearing there for England in the semi-finals of the Under-20 World Cup in the summer.
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Maitland-Niles delivered a typically unflustered performance, completing 87 of his 93 passes and demonstrating the ability to carry the ball forward from his deep starting position. He has had to be patient to show what he can do in midfield but this was a belated reminder that Maitland-Niles is much more than a left-back. Maybe he can be Wenger’s flexible friend.
Can Welbeck lead the line?
While Maitland-Niles ticked a box for Wenger, the man seven years his senior who was asked to lead the line for Arsenal still has question marks against his name. Against unconvincing opponents, supporters might have hoped Danny Welbeck would enjoy a goal feast but he was wasteful in front of goal, failing to find the net with any of his three shots.
Perhaps he was tentative on an artificial surface given his injury problems. But Wenger had turned to Welbeck with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ineligible, Alexandre Lacazette injured and both Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott sold. With tougher tests ahead, the Arsenal manager could be forgiven for having his concerns about his central striker.
Feed the goat and he will score?
There is always the left-back, of course. The recent revelation that Monreal’s childhood nickname was La Cabra – The Goat – has been embraced by Arsenal supporters and he is now something of a cult hero at the Emirates given his unexpected goalscoring form. He was on hand to turn home the opener here for his third goal in six appearances.
It is an inexplicable hot streak for the defender who turns 32 later this month. He had found the net only twice in the previous four seasons, although those goals did come in memorable FA Cup victories over Manchester United and Manchester City. What price another Monreal goal against City at Wembley next week?