Arsenal earned a vital three points on the last day of group play in the Europa League after a 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium against Swiss champions FC Zürich.
A long-range strike from Scottish international left-back Kieran Tierney was all that Mikel Arteta’s young Gunners needed to progress directly into the round of 16 of the knockout stage and avoid a cadre of big clubs that have dropped down from the Champions League.
Arteta rotated the squad once more tonight, with Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Thomas Partey all starting from the bench as the Spanish tactician no doubt had one eye on Sunday’s crunch tie against Graham Potter’s Chelsea in the back of his mind, with Eddie Nketiah, Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Fábio Vieira, Reiss Nelson, and Rob Holding all featuring from the start for the north London giants.
Overall, however, it was touch and go at times for Arsenal despite Zürich having little to play for given their guaranteed finish outside of the top two in group play, but the Swiss outfit no less gave it a real go away from home and certainly crafted a number of chances that perhaps better sides could have tucked away, particularly in the second half.
The Gunners would hold on to the slender lead come full time, though, however, there will now be concerns over the fitness of Tomiyasu who was taken off injured just fifteen minutes after his introduction in the second half after replacing Ben White in the 73rd minute.
All told, in a season that is no doubt frustrating due to the frustrating fixture list on account of a winter World Cup, topping the group and guaranteeing passage in the competition will ease some of the strain placed on the senior team as Arsenal continues to perform on all fronts in a manner that has most fans believing major honors could be at the end of the tunnel.
Arsenal Player Ratings
GK: Aaron Ramsdale (7) - England international Aaron Ramsdale was back to his usual consistent self tonight against Zürich and remained self-assured when the Swiss champions managed to call on his typically safe hands.
RB: Ben White (7) - Ben White continues to prove his versatility for Mikel Arteta after another good outing at right-back to give Tomiyasu a rest before the Japanese international likely returns to the XI against Chelsea on Sunday.
CB: Rob Holding (7) - Nothing much to say about Holding here that has not already been said when he is given the nod on continental matters, with the English defender proving solid once more and assured to continue in this stead in the knockout stage.
CB: Gabriel Magalhães (7) - Consistent and efficient again from the Brazilian center-back who was rarely given a question he truly struggled with. Like Holding, he was stout in the air as well.
LB: Kieran Tierney (8) - A lovely long-range strike from the Scottish international proved the difference-maker on the night and the nature of his overall performance matched his effort from outside the box. Decisive overall.
CM: Mohamed Elneny (7) - It’s good to be back if you’re Mohamed Elneny and Arsenal will serve to benefit from the holding midfielder’s return, which will allow Sambi Lokonga to be free to get involved further forward when they feature alongside one another.
CM: Sambi Lokonga (7) - A better evening on the night for the Belgian international, who, on the return of Mohamed Elneny, was given much more freedom to roam and get involved in forward spaces which he is more accustomed to.
CAM: Fábio Vieira (7) - A solid night for the Portuguese youth international who stamped his seal on proceedings more effectively this evening than he has in previous performances, and certainly displayed his qualities in the final third.
RW: Reiss Nelson (6) - Back to business for Nelson after what was a fantastic performance against Nottingham Forest. He was more or less average tonight, however, and this measure of consistency is the biggest gripe against him.
LW: Eddie Nketiah (6.5) - Lively as always, and his pace off the mark will always give defenders something to think about. His four shots were joint-highest on the team tonight but his overall performance was only standard.
CF: Gabriel Jesus (6.5) - The Brazilian international played his role leading the line in the same manner that you would expect; efficient and effective. However, he absolutely should have found the back of the net and that will dent his rating here.
Sub: Thomas Partey (6.5) - Another Arsenal player that the Gunners will be weary of utilizing unless they have to, he came on to help shore up matters in the center of the park to help stave off what was a Zürich side pushing for an equalizer.
Sub: Bukayo Saka (6) - Many Arsenal fans prefer that Saka is wrapped in bubble paper and not touched unless he really needs to be. Thankfully he came through unscathed on the night after just about 30-minutes on the pitch.
Sub: Takehiro Tomiyasu (6) - Removed just fifteen minutes after coming on due to injury and now there are fears for his immediate place in the Arsenal team as well as questions surrounding his involvement with Japan for the World Cup.
Sub: Martin Ødegaard (6) - Given a shade over fifteen minutes of a run out to keep somewhat prepped for a busy weekend against Chelsea, but did little by way of hammering down any dominant display of his own.
Sub: Cédric Soares (N/A) - Came on with just five minutes remaining and no real time to have a say in matters, though he did press relatively well.