No fairy tale, no shock, but a beautiful piece of imagination. A routine victory for Arsenal was settled by a play that was anything but routine. Nicolas Pepe upped things in this 3-0 win over a resolute Dundalk with a lavish goal, which provided a tantalizing glimpse of the player Mikel Arteta would like him to be.
While anyone would know the folly to describe this as a potential turning point, it is a step in the right direction and the kind of end product Pepe needs to start delivering. That’s the real value of games like this, as Eddie Nketiah and Joe Willock both added to their tally for clubs.
It says a lot that at the start of the second half they were knocking out one of their best players at Chris Shields for a crucial game against St Patrick’s Athletic this weekend.
It’s to try to get back to this point again, because Arsenal have shown their true reality.
Dundalk still took credit for himself.
There is a thin line for clubs like Dundalk in these games which is why they tend to prioritize a fairly thick line at the back.
Gaps in resources and quality mean they have little choice but to dig in and try to counter, but the problem is, that means there isn’t much they can do at all. once they’re late. So it was in this game.
The biggest frustration for Dundalk and manager Filippo Giovagnoli was that collectively their form had been good. They were simply disappointed with individual mistakes.
As curious as it may sound after a final score like that, there was a relatively long period where Arsenal’s play was agonized. They were forcing him and couldn’t create suitable chances as Dundalk remained strong.
The first proper breakthrough didn’t really come from a play, but from a block, as the ball bounced off the box to sit down nicely for Nketiah a few yards away. He kind of missed from inside the six-yard box.
He didn’t have to dwell on it too long, or wait much longer for a better chance.
That’s the other thing about games like this though. Even if it is not the first team of the richest team, the opposition must be the first in everything, and 100%. This does not happen.
Gary Rogers – who had been the penalty hero in the Europa League qualifier ahead of Sheriff Tiraspol to make sure Dundalk went that far – escaped a corner, allowing Nketiah to quickly mend himself by pushing even closer .
That was probably it anyway, but Arsenal immediately made sure of it, thanks to another individual error. A touch at the edge of the box put Joe Willock, who threw the ball into the roof of the net.
It looked like it could have been an avalanche as Arsenal claimed another just after half-time – and their third in four minutes of football.
It was Pepe’s moment, and quite a goal.
The ball had swirled along the edge of the box, only for the attacker to control it with his crampons in an unorthodox fashion, before winding it into the net.
It was a supreme and almost frustrating glimpse of what could be.
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