Football Features

“He’s Laca new player, a new playmaker” – 10 things you might have missed from Europa League matchday five

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:21, 3 December 2020

It was a dramatic night of Europa League action as matchday five saw some impressive performances and big results.

1. “He’s Laca new player!”

Arsenal played 4-2-3-1 against Rapid Vienna, clearly intent on attacking their hosts to impress the fans in attendance. Of course many expected them to be playing two up-front given Anthony Lacazette and Eddie Nketiah were starting, but Lacazette played as a no. 10.

Arsenal have been dying for a creative player inbetween the lines and using their no. 9 to do it was something of a masterstroke from Mikel Arteta. Lacazette was superb against Vienna, being involved in everything good Arsenal did as he repeatedly set the table for Arsenal’s creative players to make the key passes and shots; the highlights being his slide-rule pass in the lead up to Arsenal’s third goal and of course his opening goal, an absolute thunderbolt from 30 yards after just 10 minutes.

For someone who hadn’t scored since September and hadn’t played well for about the same time; tonight he thrived. This positional switch was a surprise but it definitely worked. Watching the Frenchman tonight he was Laca new player, a new playmaker!

2. Milan’s Viking Raider

Celtic went 0-2 up against Milan in San Siro but by the end of the night no one even remembered that and that’s because Jens Petter Hauge took the game over in the second-half.

The Norwegian winger was a terror throughout but his goal five minutes into the second-half as he waltzed through the entire Celtic defence was absolutely magical. That gave Milan their first lead of the night and he then made it safe with a delicious pass through to allow Brahim Diaz to make it 4-2. This young viking raider had more dribbles (3) and key passes (3) than anyone and is definitely one to watch.

3. Crowd noise, at the Emirates??

Yes yes get your jokes out of the way but the Emirates was a noisy place tonight for the first time in a long, long while. Fans were allowed back into the stadium (albeit at a massively reduced capacity with everyone sat spaced out) and it genuinely did seem to make a difference to Arsenal, who played with an energy they haven’t in a while.

Chants and songs and cheers and boos, everything football has missed since March 2020 was back and it felt fantastic. The players gave them a standing ovation even before kick-off, they knew how much it meant.

4. Reiss Nelson states his case

Arsenal signed Willian in the summer and no one could really figure out why given that Nicolas Pepe and Reiss Nelson were already at the club. He was surely too expensive to be depth, and sure enough he has been the main starter while Pepe and Nelson watch on.

Pepe’s fee means he’ll always get a look-in but Nelson is easy to ignore. Well, he was. After tonight’s excellence he will surely not only be in contention to start the North London Derby but more games beyond. Nelson was electric, providing the kind of pace, thrust and creative play that Arsenal are sorely in need of.

He provided the assist for Pablo Mari’s header, which was nice, but the best thing he did was the touch-pass for Eddie Nketiah’s goal. It won’t go down as an assist because Nketiah missed the initial shot before scoring on the rebound, but the intelligence and imagination to make that simple and deft layoff rather than try anything extravagant is off-the-scale. This kid is special.

5. Mourinho gambles and loses (well, draws)

José Mourinho (who says Harry Kane is having tests and should be fit for the weekend) knew that Spurs needed something from their away game against LASK and as a result three first-teamers played in Austria when ordinarily they get rested.

Heung-min Son, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Tanguy Ndombele were all put into the side, even with the North London Derby looming on Sunday. And sure, Son scored from a deliriously nice Ndombele assist, but the aim was surely to play them, put the game out of sight and then coast to a smooth victory. Well what happened was they were repeatedly stifled and held by LASK, to the point where Mourinho had to bring more starters off the bench and leave Hojbjerg on for the whole 90 minutes, and even after all that, they didn’t get the win.

“We didn’t play well, we didn’t deserve to win; they played better than us,” said Mourinho after the match, summing things up in a surprisingly matter-of-fact way. “I’m not happy with our performance, the result is fine, we qualify,” he added. And that’s true, a draw saw them through, but it has drained their momentum ahead of this weekend.

6. Arsenal are getting healthy

The second Arsenal goal today came from a beautiful header from Pablo Mari, making his first start in forever as he came back from injury. It was a delightfully good header and Mari was solid at the back too, winning possession back a game-high six times.

In addition to that we saw Calum Chambers coming off the bench to make his first start after injury. The Englishman only played the last 20 minutes but it was huge to see him come back healthy again. With these defenders back, Arsenal will have depth and options at the back.

7. Rangers get it done

Rangers knew that a win against Standard Liege would put them into the Round of 32 and despite going 0-1 down after just six minutes, in classic Steven Gerrard fashion they fought back (twice, as Standard went ahead soon after their first equaliser) and got that win.

Rangers are a genuinely impressive side with bags of mental strength. In fact the only downside to what we saw from them tonight was their poor finishing. They could have won this game comfortably but seemingly refused to take any chances to extend their lead. That plus a leaky defence means that although they got it done, there’s work to do.

8. Getting Joe Harted

As much as it would be nice to laugh at Spurs for only drawing with LASK, and yes as much as Davinson Sánchez played about as poorly as he has in recent memory, the reason the Austrian side managed to get the draw they were after is because of one man: Joe Hart.

The English goalkeeper was signed by Spurs this summer to be their back-up and suffice to say he was a little disappointing. LASK had obviously scouted Hart too as they peppered him with long shots. And while you couldn’t blame him for Mamadou Karamoko’s stunning equaliser, the first two LASK goals from Peter Michorl and Johannes Eggestein were easy saves that Hart flapped around at and completely undid all of Spurs’ hard work.

It’s taken a while but José Mourinho has finally been Joe Harted.

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9. Unai Emery League is still on

With a win away to Sivasspor, Villarreal have now guaranteed their place in the Round of 32. Samu Chukwueze scored the only goal of the game and locked The Yellow Submarine onto the knockout which means that the Europa League specialist Unai Emery, who has won it three straight times with Sevilla, still has a chance to pick up his fourth trophy.

10. La Real let it slip

Real Sociedad had a great chance to put themselves in a great position to qualify today as they had a home game against Rijeka who hadn’t picked up a single point so far this season. So of course they stumbled to a disappointing draw which leaves them level on points with AZ and having to travel to face Napoli on matchday six.

The Italian side are two points ahead on 10 points and a draw will see them through, however should they lose than they could open themselves up to eliminati0n if AZ do as expected and beat Rijeka.

Basically, because of their slip today Real Sociedad now have to go and win in the Stadio San Paolo where Napoli have won both of their games without conceding a goal since the death of Diego Maradona.