Theo Walcott scored twice on Thurday evening as a much-changed Arsenal side maintained their perfect start in the Europa League with a 4-2 win over BATE Borisov, in a game that also saw striker Olivier Giroud score his 100th goal for Arsenal.
A youthful Arsenal side fired the ’Gunners’ to victory over Belarusian champions BATE on Thursday in a pulsating encounter.
Arsenal dominated proceedings early on, hitting the post through Theo Walcott after great work from the returning Jack Wilshere.
Arsene Wenger’s side weren’t made to wait long for the breakthrough, which came after nine minutes as Wilshere and Walcott again combined, with the former crossing from the left for the latter to bundle home from close range after seeing his initial effort saved.
Arsenal had the ball in the net eight minutes later through Wilshere but the flag had long-since gone up against Walcott.
The visitors did double their lead shortly after and it came gift-wrapped. Scherbitsky in the BATE goal surrendered possession to Walcott on the edge of the box and the Arsenal forward kept his cool to roll the ball into the far corner to double his and Arsenal’s tally for the night.
That goal prompted the ten maddest minutes of football you are likely to see in some time.
Arsenal continued to threaten every time they got the ball and soon scored their third of the game when Rob Holding redirected Per Mertesacker’s flick-on past Scherbitsky from a corner.
But from nowhere and almost straight from kick off, the home side reduced the arrears.
Rios was given far too much time to measure a cross on the right and Ivanic, who had fizzed an effort just wide minutes earlier, rose at the near post to flick a fine header past David Ospina and into the top corner.
Ospina was then called into action to prevent Dragun from dragging the hosts back into the game but the flag had already gone up for offside.
Ivanic saw an effort from the edge of the box kept out by the Colombian as BATE managed a sustained spell of pressure.
That spell ended as soon as it had begun though and the first half ended as it had started, with Arsenal well on top.
Walcott was denied a hat-trick by a fine save from Scherbitsky who managed to get his finger tips on the England international’s effort from a tight angle on the right, before Holding came within inches of doubling his tally from the ensuing corner as he lashed an effort against the post from close-range.
The second half appeared to have started at a normal pace but those fears were allayed just three minutes into the second period when the visitors awarded a penalty when Dragun was penalised for pulling Mustafi’s shirt as he looked to latch on to a free kick from the right.
Olivier Giroud stepped up to take the penalty and sent Scherbitsky the wrong way to score his 100th Arsenal goal.
Arsenal should have gone about squeezing the life out of the game at this point but instead, their defensive frailties were laid bare for all to see.
BATE set out to reduce the three-goal deficit and almost did just that when a free kick from the right was fired into the mixer, but with it needing just a touch, no player obliged and Ospina managed to palm the ball away.
The Belarusians were on top once again at this point and after seeing a series of shots blocked away, they did score a second.
Ospina could only palm Ivanic’s header from a cross from the right straight into the path of Gordeichuk, who duly hammered into the net from close-range.
It could have been 4-3 just minutes later as Volodko steered an effort from 15 yards wide when completely unmarked after good work down the left from Gordeichuk.
It wasn’t to be for the hosts though despite the late pressure, as Arsenal held firm to secure a 4-2 win and to ensure their perfect start to their Europa League campaign.
Next up for the ‘Gunners’ is the visit of Brighton in the Premier League.