Arsenal remained top of their Europa League group after recording a straightforward 3-0 victory over a determined Dundalk side at the Emirates Stadium.
After being frustrated for much of the first half, the hosts took the lead through Eddie Nketiah just before the break. Minutes later, Joe Willock made it 2-0 with a calm finish.
The floodgates remained opened in the second half with Nicolas Pepe scoring a third goal inside a minute.
Here are your Arsenal player ratings from their routine win on Thursday night.
Runar Alex Runarsson (GK) – 6/10 – Was forced into his only save of the game in the first half. Very hard to judge if he is any good on Thursday’s performance.
Shkodran Mustafi (CB) – 7/10 – A quiet evening for the German before he was taken off after an hour mark – perhaps with Sunday’s game against Manchester United in mind.
Granit Xhaka (CB) – 7/10 – Hardly anything to do. Some suggestion that he will play the same role against United, where his centre back credentials will face a sterner test.
Sead Kolasinac (CB) – 8/10 – A good display. Did not put a foot wrong defensively and also joined the attack on occasion.
Cedric Soares (RWB) – 7/10 – The former Southampton man looked extremely comfortable. Will have given Mikel Arteta something to think about.
Mohamed Elneny (CM) – 7/10- Pretty much flawless in possession. Slotted into the backline for the final half hour and took the captain’s armband. Quite the turnaround for a player many expected to be sold in the summer.
Joe Willock (CM) – 9/10 – Arsenal’s bravest midfield player. He was constantly trying to break the lines with some incisive passing and dribbling. Was rewarded with a goal and an assist.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles (LWB) – 7/10 – Played ridiculously high, particularly in the second half. Heavily involved in some of the Gunners’ best patterns of play.
Nicolas Pepe (RW) – 7/10 – Extremely wasteful in the first half. Made up for that with a great finish just after the break. Withdrawn on the hour mark so should feature at Old Trafford.
Eddie Nketiah (ST) – 7/10 – Missed a golden opportunity early on but did get his goal at the end of the first half.
Reiss Nelson (LW) – 6/10 – Looked lively throughout but very limited output. Almost like he was trying too hard at times.
Away fans are an entirely different breed to the supporters that frequent their warm and cosy home stadium on a biweekly basis. That’s not to say that the team belongs more to those who travel the length and breadth of the country or beyond, but they certainly are different.
They are emphatically pivotal to the spectacle of a football match played before a crowd, a sight which is seemingly becoming something bound to the realms of the past more and more.
They can provide the dull roar which incites an upset, represent their nation abroad and even eclipse the achievements – or lack thereof – of those they have travelled to support.
Not many clubs can boast a stand named after a single fan, but the Virage Nord of Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome is called the Tribune Patrice de Péretti, in honour of the founding member of the club’s most raucous ultra group, MTP.
However, De Péretti ensured the club’s presence was felt even when they ventured away from home. Inspired by visiting AEK Athens fans in 1989, De Péretti was perennially bare-chested wherever Marseille went, including a rather brisk trip to CSKA Moscow in March 1993 with the temperature recorded at -12°C.
Central London streets were awash with German supporters when FC Köln travelled to face Arsenal in the Europa League in 2017. However, a small minority of the following sullied what was a largely peaceful visit to the capital.
Köln’s £53,000 fine may have stained their reputation but their fans are best represented by their touching gesture earlier that same season.
In an attempt to secure tickets for every Europa League away trip, fans of the Billy Goats were forced to buy a package deal, including all three home games of fellow group stage opponent Red Star Belgrade. En masse, Köln’s supporters donated the two matches not involving their side to an orphanage in Belgrade.
Rather than gaining recognition for bare chests or ear-splitting chants, Japan’s following at the 2018 World Cup earned widespread acclaim for cleaning up after themselves after the match.
A simple gesture, Japan-based football journalist Scott McIntyre explained to the BBC: “It’s not just part of the football culture but part of Japanese culture.”
Typically, when vast quantities of football fans without tickets gather in a foreign city, the looming threat of trouble is never far away.
However, the 80,000-strong Celtic which travelled to Seville in 2003 may not have been able to celebrate a UEFA Cup triumph, but did garner widespread adoration for their ‘extraordinarily loyal and sporting behaviour’, earning FIFA’s Fair Play Award that year.
Russia may very well have been covered in red and white for the 2018 World Cup regardless, but the Peruvian sash was seemingly prevalent everywhere you turned.
Having last appeared in the world’s biggest sporting event 36 years earlier, generations of families descended upon Russia, with stories of travel funded by sold cars, abandoned jobs and bank loans almost as plentiful as those decked in plastic sets of ears in tribute to Edison Flores, ‘Oreja’ (Big Ears).
Newcastle United’s fans have been forced to endure a lot in recent years, from dreadful football to an owner loathed even more, but their (sporadically topless) support has rarely had its fervour dampened either home or away.
This prolonged vigour was recognised at the start of 2020 when the Toon Army were voted the best away fans in the Premier League.
Since its founding in 1949, Raja Casablanca has defined itself as the club of the people. One of Morocco’s most successful teams boasts arguably the continent’s most fanatical following, with the club’s Green Boy Ultras forming a notably boisterous support home, away and even outside the stadium.
When the club had filled its allocated seating for a run-of-the-mill league match away to Rabat in 2015, dozens of supporters gathered around the outer wall of the stadium, peeking over the top and sharing songs with their fellow fans inside the ground.
Whether they are sharing a friendly joke with the local police, helping an elderly couple change a flat tyre, or lullabying a baby to sleep in a train carriage, the Republic of Ireland’s following at international tournaments has descended into folklore.
After a particularly memorable handful of weeks in France at Euro 2016, fans of the Republic, and Northern Ireland, were given the Medal of the City of Paris for their ‘exemplary sportsmanship’.
The thrilling 3-3 draw Dynamo Dresden (then of the second tier) played out away to top flight Hertha Berlin in the 2019 German Cup was a spectacle befitting of the 70,000-strong crowd in attendance at the Olympiastadion. Yet, Dynamo’s travelling support boasted 30,000 members of that sizeable following.
However, this is far from a one-off occurrence for the Saxony-based outfit. In 2016, they brought more than 20,000 to the Allianz Arena to face 1860 Munich and around 10,000 loyal followers travelled in excess of 200 miles to see Dynamo beat Nuremberg 2-1.
It’s important not to overreact. Celtic are second in the Scottish Premiership table, two games away from completing a historic quadruple treble, and just two points worse off than they were at this stage last season.
But scratch beneath the surface and everything is not as rosy as it could be.
At a club where your budget, history and quality dwarf that of the majority of your domestic competitors, winning is the minimum that is required. But Celtic aren’t doing that right now. With a quality manager like Eddie Howe currently out of work, the pressure is mounting on Neil Lennon with every passing day.
Narrow, unconvincing victories by one-goal margins over the likes of St Mirren, Livingston and Latvian minnows Riga FC had held together Lennon’s crumbling reputation at Parkhead, but when faced with quality opposition, his shortcomings have been laid bare for all to see.
A toothless display in the first Old Firm derby of the season resulted in a 2-0 defeat as Steven Gerrard’s men dominated from start to finish.
In these highly charged encounters, which are typically witnessed by 50,000 or 60,000 delirious frenetic fans, the pre-proposed plans outlined by the managers can often go out of the window. But on this occasion, an empty Celtic Park allowed for a more tactical battle to take over. It was one that Gerrard and Rangers won with ultimate ease.
The champions’ display summarised their recent performances and results, with Lennon’s men failing to register a single shot on target. It was a team that’s been carefully constructed over the last two and a bit years, taking on a bunch of individuals with seemingly no purpose. The Bhoys didn’t stand a chance.
Over recent seasons one of Celtic’s most admirable traits is how they’ve bounced back from defeats and disappointing results. Just as you thought their vice-like grip over the Scottish footballing scene was loosening, they turned the screw to reassert their dominance over the domestic landscape.
Even that, one of their defining characteristics, has begun to fade. The loss to Rangers was followed up by a defeat to AC Milan in the Europa League and a draw with Aberdeen at Pittodrie to leave the Hoops six points off the pace in the Premiership, albeit with a game in hand on their city rivals.
Things won’t get any easy for the side chasing ten in a row either. They threw away a 2-0 lead to draw with Ligue 1’s Lille on Thursday night, while a rearranged Scottish Cup semi-final against Dereck McInnes’ Dons, who denied them three points last time out, is on the horizon. It’s in these moments where top managers earn their money, and so far, Lennon is not justifying his wage.
When a manager like Eddie Howe is on the market, there is only so long a club like Celtic can wait before making their move. Despite their great history and reputation, Scottish football no longer has the pulling power or wealth to attract the world’s best managers, but the former European champions’ astute move for Brendan Rodgers in the summer of 2016 shows savvy deals can still be done.
The now Leicester City boss was looking to rebuild his career after his promising spell at Liverpool collapsed in a similarly dramatic fashion to their 2013/14 title push. Mario Balotelli and Ricky Lambert turned out to be inadequate replacements for Luis Suarez (yep, that really happened), and Rodgers’ reputation was in tatters.
Celtic had continued to lift league and cup titles in Rangers’ absence under Ronny Deila, but the preceding years under the Norwegian had failed to yield Champions League football and the Bhoys finished bottom of their Europa League group in 2015/16.
They, therefore, were a perfect match. Celtic provided Rodgers with a platform to restore his confidence and reputation, innovating new methods and tactics away from the Premier League glare, and in return, he took the Glasgow giants to heights they hadn’t reached for quite some time.
Howe is cut from the same cloth, and both manager and club are in a similar situation to the one Rodgers and Celtic found themselves in back in 2016. The former Bournemouth man has suffered relegation with the Cherries, and his next position could be vital to his career. Celtic are on the verge of letting ten titles in a row and the accompanying immortality slip through their fingers as Rangers’ revival gains momentum.
The next week or so could determine Lennon’s future at Parkhead, although in reality, his fate should already be sealed. Howe and the Hoops are a partnership that could be as mutually beneficial as they come and an opportunity that perhaps neither can avoid to miss out on.
A disappointing Tottenham side fell to a second defeat in all competitions this season as Royal Antwerp picked up a deserved win in the Europa League on Thursday night.
The visitors fell behind when Ben Davies was robbed of possession by Dieumerci Mbokani, who fed Lior Refaelov to lash gloriously past Hugo Lloris.
Jose Mourinho’s side struggled to create clear cut opportunities, especially in the first half after which the Portuguese manager made four changes. Despite the introductions of Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Erik Lamela, Lucas Moura, Son Heung-min and later Harry Kane, the score remained 1-0, leaving Royal Antwerp top of Group J with six points to Tottenham’s three.
Let’s get into some Spurs player ratings from a disappointing night in Belgium.
Hugo Lloris (GK) – 5/10 – Made a couple of saves but powerless to stop Refaelov’s thumping strike. Was his 100th European appearance for Spurs.
Serge Aurier (RB) – 5/10 – His crosses rarely hit their mark and his defending was a little all over the place. Learned nothing new about the Ivory Coast international.
Davinson Sanchez (CB) – 5/10 – Another night for the Colombian where he failed to inspire much confidence. Partnership with Ben Davies looked pretty fragile throughout.
Ben Davies (CB) – 5/10 – The Welshman, on his 200th appearance for the club, was robbed for the opening goal. Refaelov and Bezua proved tricky to deal with when they linked up and Davies found himself exposed a few times.
Sergio Reguilon (LB) – 6/10 – Lost the ball a few times but wasn’t as bad his defensive colleagues. A slight slip from his usual level but he’ll pick it back up again soon enough.
Harry Winks (CM) – 4/10 – A very Harry Winks performance from the England international, which is problematic in games where Spurs fall behind and need quick decisive passing.
Dele Alli (CM) – 4/10 – Hooked at half time. Becoming harder and harder to see a way back into Mourinho’s regular starting XI, but Alli will need a run of games if he’s ever going to get back to his best and not just fed Europa League games in Spurs’ second string XI, so it’s hardly all his fault.
Giovani Lo Celso – 5/10 – Was industrious and made plenty of tackles as he looks to build up his fitness. Not many lung busting runs forward but that’ll come with time.
Gareth Bale (RW) – 5/10 – Another night for Bale to build match fitness. Was never particularly involved and evidently needs more time before he can be at his match winning best.
Carlos Vinicius (ST) – 5/10 – A few nice touches here from Vinicius, but his showing on Thursday night wasn’t akin to his performance against LASK last week. Didn’t have too much service, in fairness.
Steven Bergwijn (LW) – 5/10 – A little indecisive and took potshots from range when they weren’t on. Yet to find his feet so far this season.
Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg – 6/10
Erik Lamela – 5/10
Lucas Moura – 5/10
Harry Kane – 5/10
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Leicester made it two wins from two games in the Europa League on Thursday night, securing a 2-1 victory over AEK Athens thanks to goals from Jamie Vardy and Hamza Choudhury.
The visitors drew first blood through Vardy, who converted from the penalty spot after being brought down in the AEK box. After surviving some scares, Leicester doubled their lead just before the break with Hamza Choudhury latching onto a deflection to smash home.
AEK began the second half with purpose, pulling one back through substitute Muamer Tankovic after just four minutes. Tankovic spurned a golden opportunity to level things up just after. This acted as a wake up call to Brendan Rodgers’ side, who tightened up and managed to see out the victory.
Here are your Foxes player ratings from a fine night’s work in the Greek capital.
Kasper Schmeichel (GK) – 6/10 – Only called into action once. Could do little about the goal.
Wes Morgan (CB) – 7/10 – One error aside, the return of Big Wes went well. The Foxes skipper made a host of clearances and was dominant in the air.
Wesley Fofana (CB) – 8/10 – Another fine display. Drove forward from defence and used the ball well in possession.
Christian Fuchs (CB) – 7/10 – A solid 45 minute display. However, the fact that a 34-year-old Fuchs was taken off to save his legs for Monday’s game against Leeds speaks volumes about the depth of Leicester’s current injury crisis.
Marc Albrighton (RWB) – 7/10 – Industrious performance. Looked comfortable in a role he may have to play against Leeds thanks to Timothy Castagne’s injury.
Youri Tielemans (CM) – 7/10 – Surprisingly played the full 90 minutes once again. The Belgian hasn’t stopped so far this season and it showed at times on Thursday. He looked slightly jaded.
Hamza Choudhury (CM) – 8/10 – Involved in the build up of the first goal and then scored himself with a wicked finish. Not a bad European debut overall.
James Justin (LWB) – 7/10 – Provided some thrust down the left hand side in the first half. Was moved to centre back after the break and, after an early blip, he was solid.
Cengiz Under (RW) – 8/10 – Offered a constant threat in behind and looked dangerous when dribbling. Also defended diligently when he had to.
Jamie Vardy (ST) – 8/10 – A solid 70 minute stint. Won the penalty, scored it and worked hard. Great to see him starting after a short injury layoff.
James Maddison (LW) – 8/10 – Hacked down time after time by the opposition – a testament to his spritely, creative display.
Luke Thomas – 6/10
Nampalys Mendy – 7/10
Dennis Praet – 6/10
Kelechi Iheanacho – 6/10
Harvey Barnes – N/A