Dundalk 2-4 Arsenal: Gunners end Europa League group stage with 100 per cent record
Arsenal ended their Europa League group stage campaign with a 100 per cent winning record, beating Dundalk 4-2 at the Aviva Stadium.
Mikel Arteta changed his entire XI for the trip to Dublin, naming a raft of youngsters in his squad, and they took an early lead when Eddie Nketiah (12) slotted home. Mohamed Elneny (18) scored a sensational, curling effort shortly after to double Arsenal's lead in style.
But Dundalk - who had won the FAI Cup in the same stadium on Sunday - were not to end their Europa League campaign without a bit of noise as Jordan Flores (22) pulled a goal back with his own fierce effort.
3 - Arsenal are the first team to have three English players aged 21 or younger (Balogun, Willock & Nketiah) score in a major UEFA European match since Spurs in 1982 vs Coleraine (Garry Brooke, Terry Gibson & Gary Mabbutt). Lions.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 10, 2020
The second half took longer to get going but young players Joe Willock (67) and Folarin Balogun (80) added two more, before Sean Hoare's late header (85) added another moment to savour in Dundalk's final game of the season.
Arsenal were already guaranteed top spot in Group B and have won six consecutive major European matches for the first time since November 2005 and are now nine unbeaten on the road in Europe for the first time.How Arsenal's youngsters continued the perfect streak
The game started with a relative goalfest with three inside the opening 22 minutes. Arsenal opened things up after some good hustle from Nketiah. Ainsley Maitland-Niles' pass through for him looked to be under Andrew Boyle's control, but his clearance bounced off Nketiah who used his pace to drive onto the ball and into the area before dinking a finish over Gary Rogers.
Elneny then surprised everyone with a sensational strike to double Arsenal's lead. Emilie Smith-Rowe provided a lay-off after some patient play, allowing Elneny to thunder his effort into the top corner. It was his first Arsenal goal since 2017, when he also scored on Matchday 6 of the Europa League group stage against BATE Borisov.
Dundalk: Rogers (6), Hoare (6), Boyle (6), Cleary (6), Gannon (6), Shields (7), Flores (6), Leahy (7), McEleney (6), Duffy (5), McMillan (5).
Subs used: Gartland (5), Kelly (6), Mountney (6), Wynne (5), Colovic (5).
Arsenal: Runarsson (6), Chambers (6), Mari (6), Mustafi (6), Cedric (7), Smith-Rowe (7), Maitland-Niles (7), Elneny (7), Willock (7), Nketiah (7), Pepe (6).
Subs used: Balogun (8), Ceballos (6), Cottrell (6), Azeez (n/a).
Man of the match: Folarin Balogun.
But Dundalk soon hit back as Flores netted in a second successive European fixture. He played a quick give-and-go with Michael Duffy before sending a powerful, diagonal effort into the far corner from the right of the area.
Arsenal twice tested goalkeeper Rogers as the half wore on. Cedric Sores sent a fierce drive his way from the top right of the area, but the Dundalk stopper just did enough to send it around the post before Maitland-Niles sent his own curling effort goalwards from range, but Rogers was across to save.
Dundalk could have levelled on the stroke of half-time, but Darragh Leahy sent an effort flying over the crossbar from close range after a vital block from Calum Chambers.
- Calum Chambers made his first Arsenal start in almost a year as Arsenal made a full 11 changes. Having recovered from a serious knee injury suffered last December against Chelsea, Chambers was recalled alongside Shkodran Mustafi and Pablo Mari.
- There were also starts for Mohamed Elneny, Joe Willock and Emile Smith Rowe, as well as club-record signing Nicolas Pepe, who was banned at the weekend.
Arsenal added their third in the 67th minute as Willock scored his third Europa League goal of the season. Impressive substitute Balogun held the ball up well inside the area before slotting the ball into Willock's path, whose low drive went under Rogers and into the net.
Balogun scored his first senior Arsenal goal against Molde two weeks ago and the 19-year-old added the Gunners' fourth, collecting Nicolas Pepe's dinked pass before finishing beyond the on-rushing Rogers.
Dundalk deserved a bit more for their performance though and scored their second of the evening with five minutes of normal time to play. Flores was involved again, whipping a wonderful free kick in from the right, and Hoare was there to send the ball pinging goalwards with his head, all with his back to the target.Man of the match - Folarin Balogun
It was another impressive substitute appearance from the teenager, who originally caught the eye with his cameo against Molde two weeks ago.
He used his strength to hold up the ball brilliantly well before setting up Willock for his goal before taking his own strike superbly well. Balogun looked like a player who had been playing in the Europa League for years, not mere weeks.
When asked about the 19-year-old's performance, Arteta said: "He's done really well. Every minute he's been on that field he's been superb and today he looked a threat again. He scored a goal and set up another one, and he looked really lively and mature on the pitch."
There had been some talk in the summer of a move elsewhere, but Arsenal must be desperate to hold onto him now after his performances over the last few weeks - the boy has an incredibly bright future.Arteta: Time to focus on the Premier League
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said: "The group stage in general has been very positive, obviously. It's never easy to win these games in Europe. I think we've been really consistent and performing well.
"Today's performance was positive overall because we won the game but as well we had some moments after scoring the first two goals where we were a little bit disconnected and we got a little bit confused by what the game required.
"That is normal because the job is done in the group but as well, it is not the standards that we need. Then we reacted, we got better, it's true that we rotated a lot of players. We gave players who haven't played any football some [minutes], and some young players too. There were a lot of positives but some things as well that we have to improve.
"We have to forget about the Europa League because that's in February. We need to focus strongly in the Premier League and in the Carabao Cup and the FA Cup when it starts in January.
"Now we need everybody on board, we obviously have a large squad at the moment with players back from the injury, so we'll have the opportunity to pick who is better in the moment and still rotate some players. But it gives us more options in the Premier League, to focus there and try and get the results we need."Opta stats - Nketiah among the goals
- All three of Mohamed Elneny's goals for Arsenal have been scored in European competition (1 in CL, 2 in EL), with two of those strikes coming outside the box.
- Eddie Nketiah scored his fifth goal of the season for Arsenal against Dundalk - he is now Arsenal's top scorer in all competitions this season.
- Arsenal have scored twice as many goals in the Europa League this season (20 in 6 games) as they have in the Premier League (10 in 11).
Arsenal had already qualified for the last 32 and will find out their opponents on Monday, December 14 when the draw is made. They will host Burnley in the Premier League on Sunday, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 7.15pm. Dundalk's defeat against Arsenal was their final game of the season.