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Live Commentary: Arsenal 4-2 Vorskla Poltava - as it happened

Relive Sports Mole's live coverage of Arsenal's 4-2 win against Vorskla Poltava, as a Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang brace guided the hosts to three points.
Live Commentary: Arsenal 4-2 Vorskla Poltava - as it happened
© Reuters

Arsenal defeated Vorskla Poltava 4-2 at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night to pick up all three points in their opening Europa League group-stage fixture.

The Gunners opened the scoring just over half an hour in through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's clinical finish from their first serious effort of the night.

Danny Welbeck doubled his side's tally early in the second half, which Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil added to, but the visiting side staged a mini comeback as Volodymyr Chesnakov and Vyacheslav Sharpar pulled back late goals.

Relive how the 90 minutes of action unfolded with Sports Mole's live text coverage below.

Hello and welcome to Sports Mole's live text coverage of the Europa League meeting between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners are competing in this competition for a second season running, having finished in a lowly sixth place in the Premier League last time out, and it is also a second taste of UEFA's secondary competition for their opponents after finishing third in their division.

Vorskla, whose only other participation in this stage of the competition came in 2011, are looking to spring a major surprise by finishing above two of Arsenal, Sporting Lisbon and Qarabag. It goes without saying that the Gunners are overwhelming favourites to pick up all three points in this Group E opener, and the bookies fancy the London outfit's chances of going all the way and lifting the trophy.


STARTING XI: Leno; Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding, Monreal; Elneny, Torreira; Welbeck, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Aubameyang

SUBS: Martinez, Bellerin, Lacazette, Ozil, Guendouzi, Nketiah, Smith Rowe

Starting with a look at the home team, Arsenal boss Unai Emery has made eight changes to the side that edged out Newcastle United 2-1 at the weekend. The big news is that Bernd Leno makes his long-awaited debut in goal, more than three months after joining in a £19.3m move from Bayer Leverkusen. The German is expected to replace Petr Cech as the Gunners' regular stopper, so plenty of eyes will be on him tonight.

Nacho Monreal is one of those to retain his place from the match at St James' Park, and the Spanish full-back is awarded the captain's armband for the evening. Sokratis Papastathopoulos and, a little more surprisingly, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang are the other two survivors, as Emery makes mass changes ahead of the Premier League match at home to Everton on Sunday. As well as starting with Leno, Lucas Torreira and Stephan Lichtsteiner are also in from the off.

This is very much a chance for Leno, Torreira and Lichtsteiner to lay down a marker, then, with all three players worthy of regular football in the Premier League. Eight changes may have been made, but this is still a strong-looking side fielded by Emery, which also includes Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Alex Iwobi, Danny Welbeck, Mohamed Elneny and Rob Holding. Dominic Thompson had been tipped to start at left-back, but Monreal instead keeps his place.


STARTING XI: Shust; Perduta, Chesnakov, Dallku, Artur; Kobakhidze, Sharpar, Kravchenko, Rebenok; Kolomoets; Kulach

SUBS: Tkachenko, Girogadze, Sakiv, Misik, Sklyar, Careca, Sergiychuk

Switching attention to the visitors, Vasyl Sachko has opted to field Volodymyr Chesnakov - a central midfielder by trade - in central defence because of his vast experience. Ardin Dallku will start alongside him in the heart of the back four, less than a week on from netting a last-gasp winner against Karpaty to potentially kickstart his side's season. Artur and Igor Perduta will patrol the full-back spots.

Dmytro Kravchenko and Vyacheslav Sharpar will in turn be tasked with shackling Mkhitaryan, who spent four years playing in the Ukrainian top flight with Shakhtar Donetsk, and is therefore well known to some of these players. There is some positive news for Vorskla, meanwhile, as Yuriy Kolomoets has shaken off an injury problem to start up top. Vladimir Odaryuk and Denis Vasin both miss out, however.

Elsewhere, Paulo Rebenok will play in a more advanced wing position, having also filled in at left-back, while Aleksander Kobakhidze is being used on the opposite flank and will look to get at the experienced Nacho Monreal. With Kolomets leading the line for the Ukrainian visitors, Vladyslav Kulach will patrol the area just behind. Nicolas Careca is only among the subs tonight.

Three Arsenal players remain from the 2-1 win over Newcastle United - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Nacho Monreal and Sokratis Papastathopoulos - as Unai Emery makes eight changes. Despite the mass rotation, this is still a pretty strong side and it includes three of the Gunners' summer signings, including highly-rated goalkeeper Bernd Leno.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in action during the Premier League game between Arsenal and Manchester City on August 12, 2018© Reuters

PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Vorskla Poltava are facing off against English opposition for the first time tonight, whereas Arsenal have taken on Ukrainian sides on 10 previous occasions and have an even record of four wins and four defeats from those encounters. Furthermore, the Gunners have scored 15 and conceded 15 across those matches. They are unbeaten at home to sides from Ukraine, meanwhile, winning four out of five, all coming in the Champions League group stage.

Arsenal do not exactly boast a whole lot history in European competition, even if they did qualify for the Champions League 19 seasons running. The Gunners can look back on their Inter-Cities Fairs Cup success in 1970 and their Cup Winners' Cup triumph 24 years later, but that aside they have fallen short in each competition entered on the continent. In Unai Emery, though, they have a manager with proven pedigree in this competition.

This is the second year running that Arsenal have competed in the Europa League after finishing sixth in the English top flight last time out - their lowest placing in the Arsene Wenger era, in what was the Frenchman's swansong season following an incredible 22 years in North London. Wenger could only guide the Gunners to the semi-finals, where they suffered defeat to Atletico Madrid, but Emery will be looking to go one better.

Emery has won UEFA's secondary competition on three previous occasions, coming in successive years between 2014 and 2016 during time time at Sevilla, before then moving on to Paris Saint-Germain and now Arsenal. The Europa League became the Gunners' priority in the final few months of last season when it became apparent that their top-four hopes were over, but they just did not have the quality to make it to the final.

The 2-1 aggregate loss to Atletico Madrid in the semis meant that Wenger's final season at the Emirates Stadium was a damp squib - arguably his worst year across the 22 spent in North London. Expectations are now as low as ever, with Emery given the task of guiding Arsenal back into the Champions League by any means necessary. The added bonus of winning the Europa League, of course, is that you are given a direct route into UEFA's primary competition.

Arsenal were comfortable in the group phase last season thanks to victories in their first three games, albeit after surviving an opening-game scare at home to FC Koln. They took their foot off the gas in the second half of the group phase but still made it through to the last 32, where they overcome Swedish side Ostersunds on aggregate. AC Milan and CSKA Moscow were next up, tests the Gunners past with flying colours, but Atletico Madrid proved to be too strong over two legs.

Having been ever-presents in the Champions League for 19 years, Arsenal are now a long way from European football's top club competition. Emery faces a huge task in closing the gap on four of the five sides that finished above the Gunners last season, meaning that the Europa League - and its automatic route into the Champions League if you win it - may climb up the list of priorities as the campaign goes on.

Arsenal have recovered from a slow start to Emery's tenure, which began with a 2-0 loss to Manchester City and 3-2 defeat at Chelsea, by holding off West Ham United here and winning successive games on their travels. The 3-2 win against Cardiff City was a huge boost for the Gunners' morale, and they followed that up two weeks later by seeing off Newcastle United at St James' Park. It is now three away wins in four matches.

Emery has made his side mentally tougher on the basis of their three successive wins, and the goals are now being shared around the side - nine different scorers in the Premier League is a divisional high. Questions are still being asked of Arsenal from a defensive perspective, though - some things really don't change - as they have failed to keep a clean sheet in those opening five league outings.

DID YOU KNOW? Arsenal won four of their seven Europa League games at the Emirates Stadium last season, with their only loss coming at the hands of Ostersunds after winning the first leg 3-0. Among those wins was a 3-1 triumph over FC Koln in their opener, making it 15 years since they last lost a home match on matchday one in a European competition - a 3-9 reverse to Inter Milan at Highbury.

After losing his first two games at the helm, Unai Emery will be pleased with the way his side have bounced back to rack up three wins on the spin. Arsenal's priority this season is the Premier League, although their best route back into the Champions League may well be through the Europa League, as was the case in Arsene Wenger's final season in charge.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has a point to make on August 25, 2018© Reuters

Vorskla Poltava make the trip to North London looking to make a name for themselves on the continent, seven years on from their only previous experience of Europa League football. They enjoyed their joint-highest placing in the Ukrainian top flight last season in finishing third, matching their achievement from 1996-97 when qualifying for European football for the first time.

This is now their seventh European campaign overall and, as mentioned a few moments ago, their second in the Europa League. On that only previous voyage in this competition, the Green-Whites had to progress through three qualifying ties to make it this far, which was not the case this time around. Once getting to the group stage, they picked up just two points from a possible 18 against Standard Liege, Hannover and Copenhagen.

The challenge for Vorskla is to finish above two of Arsenal, Sporting Lisbon and Qarabag in order to qualify for the knockout rounds for the first time in their history. They face a daunting first test tonight, with their most recent away win in European competition coming in a Europa League playoff tie against Dinamo Bucharest in 2011 - they have lost three and drawn two since then.

Vorskla are managed by Vasyl Sachko, who was a tall striker in his playing days and spent time at the Green-Whites before moving into coaching. Sachko has been at the club since 2008, spending four years there as a player and two years as an assistant, before being given the managerial role on a permanent basis in 2014. He is far less heralded than opposite number Unai Emery, who lifted this trophy three times with Sevilla.

Emery's reward for his success at Sevilla was one of European football's top jobs, as he was tasked with transforming Paris Saint-Germain from a dominant force in French football into a real force on the continent. Emery did not exactly succeed as, despite winning seven domestic trophies during his two years in Paris, he could not guide the club past the quarter-finals. It seems that the Europa League is his natural habitat.

Going back to Vorskla, they are eight games into their season, which started in late July. The Green-Whites have recovered slightly after kicking things off with two defeats in their first three games by winning three of their last four. Sachko's men, who were defeated 4-1 by Shakhtar Donetsk in one of those early-season fixtures, come into this Group E opener on the back of a 1-0 win at Karpaty last weekend.


Unai Emery: "The Premier League is the first competition because it's giving us a big responsibility. Other competitions are very important too. Today, we are only thinking about giving our supporters the first performance and a good 90 minutes on the pitch at the Emirates. Every title for us is very important. In my career, the ambition is very important for continuing to improve and continuing to achieve the objectives in my career personally and with the team. I want to play for every title going forward."

Vasyl Sachko: "We have a planned stroll for the team. We are not here as tourists, we are here to play, but we will have a walk around tomorrow as part of our warm-up. I have never been here as a fan, I haven't been here once but the impressions are the best they could be. Our club is writing history, writing history for our city and that is a huge honour for us. Our objective is to get the players to understand this. Our team is playing against Arsenal, we understand we are a modest club. We don't have any stars in our team."

Emery, who has taken charge of more Europa League games than any other manager, admits that the Premier League takes priority for Arsenal this season - that explains his eight changes tonight. At the same time, though, the Spaniard insists that he will be taking this competition seriously, as he wants to add a fourth winner's medal to his collection. This is the start of that journey, against Ukrainian unknowns Vorskla Poltava.

Bernd Leno warms up prior to the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava on September 20, 2018© Reuters

KICKOFF:  Vorskla Poltava get us up and running at the Emirates Stadium, aiming to pull off an almighty upset. Arsenal may have made eight changes, but the side fielded should be strong enough to get the job done, even without the use of substitutes Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette.

Bernd Leno with a nice composed start here on his Arsenal debut, chipping the ball out to the flank. Emery has made the German wait for this first outing, despite Petr Cech's domestic struggles, but a good performance tonight and the shirt will surely be his to keep.

The Emirates Stadium is far from full this evening, but that became the norm in the early rounds of this competition last season. It is all about topping the group and getting through the first couple of rounds of what is a bloated competition.

A strong Vorskla challenge goes unpunished. It is worth noting that the visitors have scored just three goals across their last seven competitive away outings, so no great surprise to see them sitting back early on here and protecting their point.

Arsenal are probing away early on here, but they have not created anything of note thus far. These opening group games can often be a grind, but the longer it remains goalless the more concerned Emery will be.

SHOT!  A very quiet start to the match here at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal have seen 75% of the ball, but the have not yet had a shot of any note, blocked or otherwise. Vladyslav Kulach's half-volley is well off target up the other end.

Bogdan Shust is alert to the danger, racing to the edge of his box and heading the ball clear before a player in red could pounce. A good run from Stephan Lichsteiner almost led to the full-back getting a shot away, but he was offside anyway.

Fifteen minutes played in North London and Arsenal have still done little in an attacking sense. They have dominated possession and have had the ball in Vorskla's final third for the majority of the match, but they are doing little with it.

Vorskla Poltava are dealing with everything that has been thrown of them so far, although that said Arsenal have not really got out of first gear. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is among the Gunners' starters, remember, but he has not been picked out often enough.

Vyacheslav Sharpar and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in action during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava on September 20, 2018© Reuters

Just the one goal in the late kickoffs in the Europa League so far this evening - going in Ludogorets Razgrad's favour in their home match against Bayer Leverkusen - although I'm sure many of the other games have had more than one effort!

YELLOW CARD!  Vorskla Poltava are going in a little too strong with their challenges. They got away with one early on in the game, but Vyacheslav Sharpar is less fortunate and is rightly booked for a tackle on Mohamed Elneny.

Credit to Vorskla for making life difficult for Arsenal, but this was always going to be the case and the Gunners need to find a different route to goal. Lucas Torreira is seeing plenty of the ball, but his starting position is very deep.

A good run from Mohamed Elneny, who is not exactly needed in front of the back four tonight. The Egyptian should have hit Alex Iwobi's squared pass first time, but he failed to do so and the chance went begging. A very slow start to this match.

Vorskla more than happy to keep the majority of their players behind the ball, making Arsenal's tactics a little surprising. More players in red and white need to commit forward, or else this one is ending goalless.

SHOT!  Not the greatest of attempts from Alex Iwobi, sending the ball into the stands with his curler from range, but it is at least an attempt. A third of the match played and Arsenal have not exactly deserved to bag a breakthrough goal.

Vorskla stood up well for 45 minutes against Shakhtar Donetsk last month when playing similar tactics, before crumbling and losing 4-1. It is so far, so good for Vasyl Sachko's men, but there is still a long way to go in this Group E opener.


For the first time tonight Vorskla Poltava commit bodies forward, and it proves disastrous for them. A loose ball is collected by Henrikh Mkhitaryan and feeds it to Alex Iwobi on the right. Iwobi looked up and slid it across for Aubameyang to tuck past Bogdan Shust.

A real blow for Vorskla, that, as they had not looked like conceding in the opening half an hour of the game. Arsenal took full advantage of their first counter-attacking opportunity, with Aubameyang proving as deadly as ever with the finish.

It will be interesting to see whether Vorskla's tactics change now that Arsenal have scored. The onus is on them to get forward, but at the same time Sachko will want his side to remain in the game for as long as possible.

CLOSE!  Arsenal win a free kick in a dangerous position for Rebenok's challenge on Lichsteiner. Lucas Torreira, who landed a little awkwardly earlier in the match and is still limping, sent the set piece into the side-netting from 25 yards - unlucky.

Aubameyang's well-taken finish for Arsenal's goal remain his side's only attempt on target in this first half. The Gunners were expected to be pretty comfortable tonight, but that has not exactly proved to be the case so far.

All of a sudden we are into the final minute of the first half. Arsenal have been disappointing, in truth, but they ultimately have a one-goal lead as we approach the interval. Opposition boss Vasyl Sachko will be feeling positive.

OFF THE POST!  Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang comes within inches of bagging a second goal on the brink of half time, as his long-range curler hit the base of the post on its way through. Bogdan Shust then reacted well to push aside Henrikh Mkhitaryan's shot.


Bar that late flurry at the end of the first half, it was a disappointing first-half showing from Arsenal. Vorskla Poltava more than held their own for large parts, but their only serious attack of the evening led to the Gunners' opener, as they countered and found the net through Aubameyang.

Vorskla, third-placed finishers in Ukraine last season, had scored just three goals in their last seven competitive away outings and were more than happy to sit deep for large parts. The home side were not exactly taking advantage of their high possession count, though, as they became a little too reliant on Lucas Torreira to create openings from his deep starting position.

Alex Iwobi's wayward shot 29 minutes in was their only attempt of any note in the opening half an hour, in fact, as an Arsenal side showing eight changes from their most recent outing struggled to get going. The breakthrough moment would arrive shortly after, however, and it all came from a rare Vorskla voyage forward into the opposition half.

After pouncing on a loose pass on the edge of his own box, Henrikh Mkhitaryan fed Alex Iwobi on the left and the Nigerian winger crossed for an unmarked Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to tuck past Bogdan Shust. That goal made Aubameyang the first Arsenal player to score more than once in all competitions this season, but the Gunners did not exactly build on the lead.

Not until the final minute of the half did they register their next attempts, with Aubameyang grazing the post with his long-range curler and Mkhitaryan being denied by Shust from inside the area. With the two sides set to reemerge for the second half in a couple of minutes' time, let us remind ourselves of both benches.

ARSENAL SUBS: Martinez, Bellerin, Lacazette, Ozil, Guendouzi, Nketiah, Smith Rowe

VORSKLA POLTAVA SUBS: Tkachenko, Girogadze, Sakiv, Misik, Sklyar, Careca, Sergiychuk

Unai Emery gestures with two fingers during the Europa League group game between Arsenal and Vorskla Poltava on September 20, 2018© Reuters

KICKOFF:  We are back up and running at the Emirates Stadium, where neither manager has made a change at the break. Arsenal ended the first half on a high, and they do have that one goal to their name, so can they push on in this second half?


Arsenal have indeed pushed on from that strong end to the first half, taking just a few minutes of the second period to double their advantage. Henrikh Mkhitaryan clipped the ball in from the left and Danny Welbeck guided it past Bogdan Shust with his head.

CLOSE!  Arsenal have finally managed to find their stride and are closing in on a third goal. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was played in behind and squared the ball towards the back post, where Danny Welbeck was unable to slide it home under pressure from a couple of players.

SHOT!  The Gunners may have been disappointing in the first half, but they have done what was required of them tonight. Two goals ahead, the home side should cruise over the line with a little under 40 minutes of the contest left to play. Aubameyang volleys over the bar.


GOAL!  The floodgates have well and truly opened now, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang gets his second of the match. The Gabonese got a tad fortunate in the build-up, pouncing on his own misplaced pass and then firing it into the corner of the net from outside the box.

SAVE!  Bogdan Shust keeps the ball out, but Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have been burying the shot - he kicked the ground, rather than the ball! The points in the bag, Aubameyang and Torreira have been replaced by Mesut Ozil and Matteo Guendouzi.

Just over an hour played at the Emirates Stadium and Arsenal are cruising. They were comfortable in the first half, but the difference now is that they have three goals to their name and are looking a lot more threatening in the final third.

Arsenal looking good value to bag a fourth here, seeing a couple of shots blocked aside before the ball could reach the target. The visitors had another rare foray forward a minute or so ago, but the attacking move came to nothing.

The space opens up for Mesut Ozil following some good play from Matteo Guendouzi, but he ran the ball out of play. Alex Iwobi then chipped a nice cross towards the back post, where a visiting player was waiting to clear the ball.

Vorskla have definitely been more adventurous over the last five or 10 minutes, knowing that they now have nothing to lose. A shot from all of 45 yards has just sailed over the crossbar, though, and their chances of a consolation are diminishing.

ARSENAL SUB! Unai Emery has made his third and final sub, bringing off arguably his side's star man in Alex Iwobi and bringing on Emile Smith Rowe in his place. The youngster impressed during pre-season and deserves this chance.

The match is not so one-sided as it was in the first 10 minutes of the second half, as Vorskla are far braver now and putting together numerous attacks. Still, with 20 minutes to go the Gunners are looking very comfortable here.


Two in two games for Mesut Ozil, who comes off the bench to net here. Stephan Lichsteiner lofted the ball towards the back post and Ozil made contact with his studs to tuck it past a couple of defenders on the line.


Not quite game on at the Emirates Stadium, but a moment for Volodymyr Chesnakov to remember as the skipper thumped the ball past Bernd Leno. Arsenal could not clear their lines from a corner and the defender gave Leno no chance with his powerful finish.

VORSKLA POLTAVA SUBS! Mykhaylo Sergiychuk has been brought on for Vorskla for the final 10 minutes or so. A deep cross from a free kick was headed back across goal, but it was too close to Bernd Leno and the German gathered.

GROUP E UPDATE! Sporting Lisbon lead 1-0 against Qarabag in the other Group E match courtesy of Raphinha's goal 10 minutes into the second half. At the Emirates Stadium, Smith Rowe's attempted through-ball had too much on it.

Arsenal do not want to concede a second goal, so defending has taken priority at the moment. It has been a positive night for the Gunners on the whole, particularly when you consider how disappointing they were in front of goal for 30 minutes or so.

Smith Rowe's eyes lit up as he gathered the ball outside the box and let rip, but it was hit straight at an opposition player. Five minutes to play in North London and Arsenal clearly want to open up a four-goal lead once again.

Arsenal are currently going through the motions here, knocking the ball around while still looking for that fifth goal. Sporting still lead at home to Qarabag, some Group E is as many people expected it to be after the opening round of fixtures.

The Green-Whites have put up a good fight in the last 15 minutes, having looked down and out after Mesut Ozil bagged a fourth for the hosts. The visitors will be keen to better their two-point tally from their last Europa appearance.

Emile Smith Rowe has been very direct since coming on, and his latest burst forward leads to a corner being won late in the match. It is worked short and eventually falls to Guendouzi, but he was unable to get the ball into the middle.


The ball is pulled back to Vyacheslav Sharpar on the edge of the box and he thumped it high into the net. That was the very last kick of the game, so the scoreline no longer looks as impressive as it once did from the Gunners' perspective.


Arsenal defeat Vorskla Poltava 4-2 to pick up all three points in their opening Europa League fixture. The Gunners opened the scoring just over half an hour in through Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's clinical finish from their first serious effort of the night. Danny Welbeck doubled his side's tally early in the second half, which Aubameyang and Mesut Ozil added to, but the visiting side staged a mini comeback of sorts as Volodymyr Chesnakov and Vyacheslav Sharpar pulled back late goals.

That concludes Sports Mole's live text coverage of events from the Emirates Stadium. An on-the-whistle report can be found by clicking here, and we will have some reaction from the Arsenal camp within the next hour. Thanks for joining!

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A general shot of a Premier League football ahead of the Premier League clash between Everton and West Ham United at Goodison Park on October 30, 2016
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