My guys from Arsenal used the second string in a 1-0 loss to Cologne in Group H in Europa League play.
The Guardians Amy Lawrence wrote:” There is a limit to how much genuine disappointment Arsène Wenger will carry from Cologne after a flat performance and narrow Europa League defeat for his understudies. Arsenal qualified as group winners, despite a going-through-the-motions 90 minutes with few redeeming features, and all the while his most valued personnel stayed at home with their feet up. This game was, bizarrely, more of a silver lining than a cloud.
“You feel you have done the job and finished top of the group and we play the final game against Borisov with not much at stake apart from the fact we want to win the game,” said Wenger, a summation that crystalised the relaxed nature of this situation.
Having made wholesale changes to the starting XI after that feelgood derby win against Tottenham, this was actually a pretty experienced lineup. That was no guarantee of a well-tuned performance, and Arsenal managed to dominate possession and get picked off by a rare Cologne break which led to the game’s decisive penalty.
The match provided an opportunity to give players on the fringes some competitive minutes, particularly Danny Welbeck on the road back from spells out injured. “The situation was planned before the game that Danny Welbeck plays 45 minutes,” Wenger said.
“He comes back from injury we have three more games, Sunday, Wednesday and Saturday again, and medically the risk was a bit too high to play him for longer because he has been out for a while. But he has no problem. He was ready to stay on and frustrated to come off but he’s in good shape.”
The complication when fielding the second string is a bit of rustiness, those missing fractions of instinct that come with players who are in the groove. It can inhibit the overall quality of the game. Arsenal were mostly comfortable, but not particularly enthralling.
Opponents propping up the Bundesliga were there for the taking. Cologne were high on atmosphere yet low on confidence. Arsenal were not at their most fluid, epitomised by the fact their most promising first-half chances fell to Francis Coquelin, who has never scored for the club. He thumped one from long range and another shot cracked against the near post. Ainsley Maitland-Niles played with a sense of adventure but there was not much happening.
Cologne took advantage of the torpor with a counter attack on the hour. Sehrou Guirassy cantered into the penalty area and tumbled after tangling legs with Mathieu Debuchy. It was on the soft side but the Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov awarded a penalty, which Guirassy took with composure, beating Ospina straight down the middle. “We lost a game where Cologne had one shot on goal basically. It was a very ‘nice’ penalty we have to take on board,” Wenger said.
Jack Wilshere came close with a couple of opportunities, and Reiss Nelson danced into the box late on and forced a save from Timo Horn, a rare illuminating moment for the Arsenal attack.
No equaliser. No major problem.