Arsenal survive Europa League fright against Ostersund to reach last 16

Arsenal 1 Ostersund 2 (4-2 agg): Sead Kolasinac's second-half goal finally killed off the hopes of Graham Potter's team after they had scored twice in 69 seconds

Nick Callow
Emirates Stadium
Thursday 22 February 2018 22:51
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Sead Kolasinac, centre, celebrates his second-half goal
Sead Kolasinac, centre, celebrates his second-half goal

Eat your heart out Jose Mourinho – Arsene Wenger knows how to keep fans engaged in European football.

Not that the Arsenal fans seemed to enjoy the drama or appreciate the delight of their Swedish visitors as the players and manager were booed of at half-time and then end. And this despite reaching the last 16 of the competition that represents their best route back into the Champions League.

At least Wenger's outwitted Europa League side saved him any selection problems ahead of Sunday's League Cup final against Manchester City, for as Wembley warm-ups go this was as cold as it gets.

Even preordained goalkeeper David Ospina has reason to fear for his place after a match in which none of Arsenal's fringe squad staked a claim to play against the best team in England.

That a few will still be involved emphasises just how big favourites City will be this weekend, when the first domestic trophy of the season is settled.

For this match against the lowest ranked side left in the tournament was nose-diving towards a calamitous exit when the Swedes scored twice in a minute to lead by two goals on the night with 23 minutes gone.

Clearly believing their three-goal lead from the first leg would easily be added to, Arsenal ultimately bailed themselves out with a Sead Kolasinac strike shortly after half-time to give them a 4-2 aggregate lead. But they still had to survive a series of scares against a Swedish side that was only formed one month after Wenger was appointed Arsenal manager in October 1996.

Five thousand Ostersund fans made the trip to London, representing 10 per cent of their ski resort town's entire population. And when they were not cheering their team, expressed themselves with joyous booing of Arsenal's slow-paced time-wasting tactics.

Graham Potter's team impressed throughout the second leg

Yes, Arsenal made it through but none of the teams also surviving to today's draw will fear drawing the Wenger boys judged on this latest shambolic display.

And there are some decent clubs Arsenal will want to avoid with Lokomotiv Moscow, Atletico Madrid, Dynamo Kiev, Lazio, RB Leipzig, Sporting Lisbon, Viktoria Plzen, Lyon, Zenit and Borussia Dortmund all in the mix.

Overawed in the first match, Ostersunds went at an Arsenal team captained by Jack Wilshere from the outset. They had much of the early play but few clear cut chances until their dramatic double goal strike midway through the first half.

The first came from an own goal from the out of sorts Calum Chambers and Ken Sema tore through a lacklustre Arsenal back line to get their second within a minute. And then, 15 minutes before the break, Curtis Edwards wrapped a right foot shot narrowly wide of a post and just missed out on completing the most incredible of first half comebacks.

Hosam Aiesh scores past David Ospina

Not only that, a high profile goal from the Middlesbrough-born 24-year-old might have prompted another chapter in a career which has to date taken in from Darlington to Thornaby, Spennymoor Town back to Thornaby and the to Ytterhogdals IK and now Ostersunds.

To say the Swedish side was as energised and effervescent as much as the home side and supporters were frozen solid with fear and surprise would be no understatement.

Though officially a 58,405 sell-out it appeared that a third of the Arsenal supporters had come dressed as red seats and rather than saving their voices for Wembley chorused in groans of seen-it-all-before frustration.

Wenger, who had hoped the tie would be over in his favour by half-time and look to rest a few names for the second period, slunk back to his dug-out to plot his and the team's survival and possibly convey that there was no need to panic. Not yet, anyway.

But when Danny Welbeck and then Wilshere fluffed a couple of decent chances shortly before half-time there was little to suggest Arsenal would blast their way back into the game.

A cynical yellow card foul from behind by Ainsley Maitland-Niles even presented the much heralded Saman Ghoddos a decent free-kick opportunity which Ospina was relieved to keep out.

That would be the last involvement on the night for the promising your Arsenal midfielder, who was replaced by Granit Xhaka for the second half. And Arsenal as good as killed off the tie – again – within 90 seconds of the restart.

Realigned and refocused they immediately went for the jugular and a move involving Henrikh Mkhitaryan and a Hector Bellerin cross prompted a defensive error from Ronald Mukiibi, allowing an unmarked Kolasinac the chance to ram the ball in from eight yards.

But it would not be the Arsenal way for that to seal the deal. Goal shy Welbeck over complicated a great chance to level on the night and more slipshod defencing to three more significant scares around Ospina's goal.

Arsenal: Ospina; Bellerin, Chambers, Holding, Kolasinac; Elneny, Maitland-Niles (Xhaka 45); Wilshere (Willock 76), Mkhitaryan, Iwobi (Nelson 90); Welbeck. Subs: Macey, Monreal, Mustafi, Nketiah.

Ostersund: Keita; Mukiibi,(Islamovic 73) Papagiannopoulos, Pettersson, Widgren; Aiesh (Tekie 52),, Edwards, Nouri, Sema; Hopcutt (Arhin 81), Ghoddos. Subs: Andersson, ,Bergqvist, Gero, Mensah.

Referee: Ivan Kruzliak (Slovakia)

Attendance: 58,405

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