The Gunners seized firm control of Group F at the Emirates Stadium thanks to Martinelli’s two goals. He combined brilliantly with left-back Tierney, whose energy and crossing offered a tantalising glimpse of what he’ll do to improve Arsenal at both ends of the pitch once he’s fully fit.
Arsenal’s future may be the biggest winner after the second matchday of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League, given the way Kieran Tierney and Gabriel Martinelli starred during a 4-0 win over Standard Liege.
Head coach Unai Emery would have been pleased by what he saw. Emery can also afford himself a wry smile after his decision to once again omit Mesut Ozil from the squad paid off.
Many Arsenal supporters haven’t warmed to the Spaniard’s treatment of the club’s highest-earner, but the Gunners are beginning to show they may not need Ozil to become a force in Europe again.
Emery’s old club, Sevilla, are already a force in this competition and have added a striker undergoing a rebirth in the form of Javier Hernandez. The Mexico international has regained his swagger since leaving West Ham United and proved the difference as Sevilla beat APOEL Nicosia in Group A.
Top spot in the standings eludes Manchester United after a soporific 0-0 draw away to AZ Alkmaar in Group L. United’s continuing inability to create chances and show even a hint of impetus to do so, is piling the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who is beginning to look out of his depth in a job nobody has mastered since Sir Alex Ferguson called it quits in 2013.
Thursday ResultsAstana 1-2 Partizan BelgradeYoung Boys 2-1 RangersFeyenoord 2-0 PortoCSKA Moscow 0-2 EspanyolFerencvaros 0-3 LudogoretsSt-Etienne 1-1 WolfsburgOleksandriya 1-1 GentIstanbul Basaksehir 1-1 Borussia MonchengladbachWolfsberg 1-1 AS RomaBesiktas 0-1 Wolverhampton WanderersBraga 2-2 Slovan BratislavaAZ Alkmaar 0-0 Manchester UnitedSevilla 1-0 APOEL NicosiaDudelange 1-4 QarabagMalmo 1-1 FC CopenhagenLugano 0-0 Dynamo KievTrabzonspor 2-2 BaselKrasnodar 1-2 GetafeSporting CP 2-1 LASKRosenborg 1-4 PSV EindhovenCeltic 2-0 ClujLazio 2-1 RennesArsenal 4-0 Standard LiegeVitoria 0-1 Eintracht Frankfurt
Winners: Gabriel Martinelli and Kieran Tierney
Martinelli is just 18 and is making a big step up from the regional levels of Brazilian football. However, he’s already left people in no doubt he knows where the net is.
The teenager scored twice in the first 16 minutes, showcasing the timing and movement of a natural predator in the area. Martinelli’s first goal, a deft header to convert Tierney’s precise cross, should answer any doubts about the former Ituano prospect’s ability to operate as a centre-forward.
Arsenal need goals in support of regular strikers Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette. The Gunners are getting them from an exciting and youthful talent who added a brace to the two goals he netted against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup recently.
Martinelli’s assist for Dani Ceballos’ first Arsenal goal also showed off the link play that proves the South American will be able to lead the line when called on. Arsenal’s strength in depth at the heart of attack looked weak when Eddie Nketiah was loaned to Leeds United, but Martinelli’s rapid start has changed the picture completely.
As good as Martinelli was on the night, Tierney’s masterclass may have been more exciting. The defender signed from Celtic in the summer has been working his way back from injury and had only previously featured in a dynamic cameo against Forest.
Based on his full showing against Liege, Tierney is going to be a major asset for Arsenal’s chances of winning a first piece of European silverware since 1994.
He was everything Sead Kolasinac isn’t from the left-back berth. Specifically, Tierney made better use of the ball in attacking areas, starting with his assist:
It was just one from a collection of exquisite deliveries from a player who often took the chance to cross first-time. More importantly, Tierney looked up, take note Kolasinac, to make sure he chose the best option.
This isn’t just a full-back able and willing to get forward. Tierney is a raiding menace on the overlap with the technique and vision to punish defences foolish enough to let him run free:
Given how Emery wants a more aggressive and athletic team able to press and defend from the front, Tierney is the ideal weapon to help his blueprint finally take shape.
Loser: Mesut Ozil
Emery has left himself open to criticism by his consistent heavy-handed treatment of a player he’s never truly fancied. Ozil wasn’t involved during the 3-2 win over Aston Villa, nor the 1-1 draw with United, in the Premier League, and the languid No. 10 didn’t feature in a winnable home fixture in Europe.
The latest omission sent one clear message to Ozil, he’s not wanted by the man in the dugout. It’s a divisive decision from Emery because leaving Ozil out in the cold robs Arsenal of the most creative player in the squad.
Few would dispute the Gunners player a more stylish game when Ozil is at his artful best:
The fact remains though Emery wants a team defined more by physicality than grace. He wants tenacious runners who will hunt for and win the ball in packs.
Tenacity has never been high on the list of Ozil’s attributes. He looks increasingly like a player out of sync with the remodelled Arsenal being built in the Emery era.
Based on how players such as academy graduate Joe Willock and Real Madrid loanee Dani Ceballos, both scorers on the night, justified Emery’s selections, it’s difficult to see how or when Ozil can force his way back into the mix.
Winner: Javier Hernandez
What a difference a few months makes in football. Javier Hernandez began the season thinking he was set for a backup role in West Ham’s striking department.
Yet a move to Sevilla, the site of many great reclamation projects in the European game in recent years, has given Hernandez a new lease of life. The former United marksman netted his second goal in as many Europa League matches to offer a reminder of his quality as a finisher.
Hernandez is one of the more experienced and accomplished strikers in the competition. The 31-year-old’s instincts and big-game temperament could be the key to helping Julen Lopetegui add yet another of these trophies to the Sevilla cabinet.
Loser: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Solskjaer has often been fond of talking about the so-called “United way.” It’s a catch-all phrase for attacking football and an insatiable appetite for goals, two hallmarks of the club’s proud history.
Unfortunately for United supporters, those things have deserted the team since Solskjaer took over. There were warning signs his early magic as manager had worn off toward the end of last season, but the nadir was surely reached in Alkmaar after the Red Devils barely mustered a whimper in the final third:
Injuries to striker Anthony Martial and playmaker Paul Pogba may have offered mitigation for Solskajer, but there was still little excuse for such a drab showing given the team he started in the Netherlands:
The fact is former youth prospects like Marcus Rashford don’t look up to the grade required. Meanwhile, big-money buys such as Fred, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata have rarely justified the fees.
Solskjaer is suffering for the slew of poor transfers that have left United a shell of the club’s former glories. He’s likely to pay a heavy price for past failures before the season ends