Arsenal on brink of last 16 of the Europa League after win over Ostersund
Gunners can now plan for Carabao Cup final.
Arsene Wenger praised his Arsenal side for the way they performed in unfamiliar surroundings as they left Ostersund with one foot in the last 16 of the Europa League.
Surrounded by snow drifts at the Jamtkraft Arena and playing on an unfamiliar 4G pitch, a strong Arsenal side overcame trying conditions to win 3-0.
Wenger got out of the group stages by largely utilising his fringe players and young prospects but, now sitting eight points off the top four, winning the Europa League arguably presents the Gunners with their best shot of returning to the Champions League.
That explains why the likes of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were included here and it was the former who rounded off a straightforward win after a Nacho Monreal effort and a Sotirios Papagiannopoulos
own goal had set Arsenal on their way, with Ostersund missing a last-gasp penalty.
“I think we adapted quite well to the pitch,” Wenger said after the game.
“They (Ostersund) were maybe a bit cautious at the start and we took advantage of it. I feel that at 2-0 at half-time, it was important for us not to concede a goal and win the second half.
I think we adapted quite well to the pitch Arsene Wenger
“I felt there was more to score one or two more in the second half but we were in control and once we went 2-0 up… overall we won in a comfortable way.
“The risk at the start was that I didn’t know how tough the pitch would be for our players. But overall we have no game over the weekend, so it was an easier decision.
“The only risk was the injuries. I’m happy we had no problems and the pitch was quite good.”
The manner of this victory, with Ostersund unable to register a goal as Arsenal’s captain on the night David Ospina kept out Tom Petttersson’s weak stoppage-time penalty, means the pressure is off the Gunners in next week’s return leg at the Emirates Stadium.
That will suit Wenger as Arsenal have the Carabao Cup final against Manchester City three days later and the Frenchman admits he is likely to shuffle his pack.
“We’ll try to win the game again,” he said.
“Maybe we’ll rotate the players who did not play tonight and rest one or two who played tonight.”
Ostersund, who beat the likes of Galatasaray, PAOK and Hertha Berlin to get this far, were surprisingly defensive in the opening quarter of the contest.
Their English manager, Graham Potter, bemoaned the start but was pleased that his players rallied to trouble Arsenal for periods of the tie.
“Arsenal were the better team and deserved to win,” he said.
Arsenal are rightly one of the favourites Graham Potter
“It was a difficult start, we weren’t ourselves, we were too deep, too short. We could have gone under in a big way against their quality but we didn’t.
“We showed what we were about in the second half, it is a shame we didn’t score the penalty but I’m most proud of how the players responded.
“Arsenal are rightly one of the favourites. They’ve left a few players at home and it shows the strength of their squad. They still had World Cup winners on the pitch, talent all over and technically good level. They are clearly the best team we’ve faced.”