Trying to establish the expected goals in the Europa League is a mission, particularly on a night when so many goalscorers are completely unexpected. After last weekend’s flurry of repelled chances against Manchester United, Arsenal summoned goals from some unusual places against meek Bate Borisov. Notable celebrations were in order for Mathieu Debuchy, Jack Wilshere and Mohamed Elneny. Between them they had waited a combined seven and a half years for an Arsenal goal.
Considering Arsenal’s Europa League campaign began here with overcrowded bedlam, with an estimated 20,000 FC Köln fans swelling the numbers and contributing to a boisterous atmosphere, Group H tailed off gently in front of a half-full stadium. Just under 30,000 turned up – an interesting fraction less than the 54,648 tickets sold. Still, they came with an open mind and saw a pretty open Bate team which encouraged Arsenal to help themselves to some goals.
The nature of the scorers sprinkled a bit of magic dust on an otherwise mildly significant occasion. To see Debuchy and Wilshere on the scoresheet, both of whom last scored for Arsenal many moons ago, is one example of the Europa League’s ability to conjure some utterly unexpected romance.
Debuchy’s moment came when a clearance ricocheted his way. The right-back, whose fitness catastrophes mean he has only made a meagre 13 appearances in the Premier League for Arsenal since joining them three and a half seasons ago, seized it. He lashed the ball across the face of goal and into the far corner of the net.
Scoring in an inconsequential game wouldn’t mean a great deal to most players, but Debuchy was elated with his first goal for such a long time the last one was set up by Mathieu Flamini. It revealed something about his wilderness years that his team-mates showered him with affection.
Walcott had three clear chances to extend the scoreline before half-time. One of them was brilliantly saved by Denis Scherbitski, instinctively thrusting out a leg, and another rebounded off Nemanja Milunovic on the line. Walcott was nothing if not persistent, and did succeed eventually. When Danny Welbeck overcooked a run on goal Walcott bounded in to pick up the pieces of a half clearance and tuck away Arsenal’s second.
The third warmed the souls of the supporters who bothered to come along to watch the B team. The crowd had been chanting for Wilshere to shoot, hoping for the homegrown boy to get a goal of his own. Having already arced in a shot that was tipped over the bar, he jinked past his marker to thump in with a pearl of a finish.
Wilshere was involved in the fourth, with a raking pass to Walcott, whose cross was turned in by Denis Polyakov. The Bate defenders endured a tortuous evening and Milunovic bundled over Walcott for the umpteenth time for an Arsenal penalty.
Olivier Giroud had to take it twice as for the first effort the referee might have been momentarily wondering if there were more people in the crowd or players encroaching. No bother to Giroud who reset the ball and slammed in again. Then Elneny stunned the crowd with a sweetly struck sixth goal for Arsenal.
This competition has been the preserve of the B team. It remains to be seen whether Arsène Wenger will make such sweeping changes in the knockout rounds, where the competition will warm up. In the round of 32 they could meet the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Lyon, Napoli and Celtic. Further along and Atlético Madrid, Lazio and RB Leipzig are potential opponents.