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Wenger joy as red hot Gunners are class apart

Ostersunds 0 Arsenal 3

By Mark Mann-Bryans

Arsenal made light work of sub-zero temperatures and an artificial pitch to secure a comfortable Europa League victory over Ostersunds.

The first leg of this Round of 32 tie was played in Ostersunds' Jamtkraft Arena, surrounded by snow drifts and furnished with an unfamiliar 4G surface - but a strong Arsenal side overcame trying conditions to win 3-0.

Arsene 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 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 Ostersunds missing a last-gasp penalty.

Wenger said: "We did the job. We started well and controlled the game against a side who are good, you can see they're a quality team, but once we opened the score I think we were in control.

"Maybe we didn't push enough in the final third in the second half, but overall we played a serious game, job done.

"(They looked) very nervous at the start and we took advantage of it."

Ostersunds - under Englishman Graham Potter - had not been able to get hold of the ball and when they did, they gifted Arsenal the best chance of the opening exchanges as goalkeeper Aly Keita passed out of his box to Papagiannopoulos.

The Sweden international dallied and was robbed by Ozil, who then burst through on goal with Keita blocking his path and Mkhitaryan's resulting shot being blocked behind.

Moments later and the visitors were in front, Alex Iwobi getting in a low shot which Keita could only shovel in the direction of the onrushing Monreal, who swept home his third goal in his last six appearances.

Mkhitaryan stung the palms of Keita as Arsenal continued to dominate, with the inevitable second coming at the midway point of the half.

Papagiannopoulos was the unwitting party, turning Mkhitaryan's driven cross into his own goal from close-range after Ostersunds were again caught in possession inside their own box.

Potter's side finally broke into the Arsenal half but Abdulllhi Gero could only head tamely at David Ospina.

Ospina was soon forced into more noteworthy action, turning Saman Ghoddos' dipping effort over the crossbar as the hosts enjoyed a spell of pressure.

Ken Sema's well-struck free-kick was straight at Ospina, while Samuel Mensah fired a shot wide as Ostersunds looked to get back into the game.

Arsenal took their time to build on their lead but were three goals to the good when Ozil exchanged passes with Mkhitaryan before turning a weak strike past Keita, who should have done better.

Ostersunds were presented with a great chance to reduce the deficit in stoppage time after Hector Bellerin upended Tesfaldet Tekie in the box, only for Ospina to save Tom Pettersson's weak penalty.

Belfast Telegraph

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