After the outrage, a comfortable win for Arsenal and the chance to cut loose in the Champions League. How the hosts needed this, a night to channel their frustration following back-to-back defeats in the Carabao Cup and Premier League, led by a pair of dazzling performances from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli. A routine victory against a poor Sevilla side, who at this rate will struggle to even return to the Europa League, brought Mikel Arteta some relief and put the Gunners on course for the last-16.
This has been a difficult week for Arsenal but Saka and Martinelli revived Arteta’s side and sparked them into life. Complaints over VAR aside, injuries have hit and an alarming drop-off in form has followed among some members of Arteta’s squad, but Saka and Martinelli were irrepressible. After being shackled and doubled-up on in the controversial 1-0 defeat at Newcastle on Saturday night, Arsenal’s flying wingers were released at the Emirates; Sevilla’s full-backs, Juanlu and Kike Salas, could at least console each other after they both endured torrid evenings.
Saka was magnificent, although his late substitution after an awkward landing threatened to further sour Arteta’s mood and could rule him out of Gareth Southgate’s England squad when it is announced on Thursday afternoon. Arteta, though, did not appear to be overly concerned when he was asked about the injury afterwards. As for Sevilla’s physical approach to stopping him, Arteta said Saka is “getting used to it”. If that’s the case, so are we - after what was only Saka’s fourth appearance in the Champions League brought yet another outstanding display.
A premature departure at least ensured he could go off to a deserved ovation, as Saka made his way around the Emirates pitch. It was his composed finish into the corner to double Arsenal’s lead that ended a run of six games without a goal. Saka also set up the first for Leandro Trossard’s opener and it was his movement that instructed Jorginho’s wonderfully cutting pass that split Sevilla apart. Sevilla had tried their best to stop Saka in his tracks, committing four fouls on the England winger inside the opening 17 minutes alone, but the 22-year-old’s persistence was rewarded as he escaped the reach of Salas and squared to Trossard for the simplest of finishes.
Martinelli was just as much of a menacing nuisance on the opposite side: his twists and turns proving impossible to contain as he beat Juanlu with ease to reach the byline on several occasions. Martinelli set up Saka’s goal with a clever run that picked up Oleksandr Zinchenko’s quick throw-in on the half-way line. As Arsenal broke away with speed, Martinelli slipped Saka through and he did not need an invitation to shoot after cutting inside the naive Adria Pedrosa, who dived into the challenge.
Saka had the last laugh after Sevilla’s initial approach to restraining him involved a series of rotating fouls from the centre-back Nemanja Gudelj and the left-back Salas. Seville had given up by the second half and could not get near him. Trossard’s opener relaxed Arsenal and Saka picked up where he left off after half-time, leading a break and setting up Kai Havertz’s deflected volley. Then Martinelli responded, dribbling around a weary Juanlu and flicking a cross to the back post that Havertz failed to attack. A few moments later, the German went close with a cleanly struck left-foot shot that zipped past the post, which would have made amends for an awful miss inside the opening minute when he was left unmarked at the back post.
This was not a contest, from the first minute until the last. The visitors offered little resistance or threat of a comeback: Arsenal were made to work hard for their 2-1 win in Spain two weeks ago but the LaLiga side were unable to produce the same battling qualities in the reverse fixture. Now with only one win in their last nine, they are a poor imitation of last season’s Europa League winners and were jeered by the travelling supporters in the away end. On his return to north London, former Tottenham winger Erik Lamela’s only contribution was to be barged off the ball by Declan Rice in the move that led to Arsenal’s opening goal.
Sevilla were kept to a single moment of danger in each half, neither led to David Raya requiring to make a save. First William Saliba recovered superbly to pinch the ball from Pedrosa, who threatened to wake Raya from his first-half slumber after being released through on goal. Perhaps Saliba had fallen asleep after half time when he was brushed aside by Youssef En-Nesyri, only for the striker to hesitate and fail to produce either a finish or a pass when Raya was brought from his line.
Arsenal, though, were always comfortable. Zinchenko forced goalkeeper Marko Dmitrovic into a save with a stinging volley but Arsenal were not required to get out of second gear, apart from Saka and Martinelli, who continued to play on full throttle. The sight of Saka limping off after challenging for a high ball will be a concern for both Arteta and the onlooking Southgate - but after a week that brought an exit from the Carabao Cup and the “disgrace” of Newcastle, Arteta will be thankful for a straightforward evening. The last-16 beckons and although PSV’s victory over Lens delayed its confirmation, Arsenal are almost there.
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