Arsenal came from behind to claim a 3-1 win against FC Köln in a game that was shrouded in controversy and excitement before and during match.
The Gunners’ Europa League opener was delayed for an hour due to fan disruotion outside and multiple incidents with stewards. But after the mayhem had calmed down, the game was allowed to be played, and it was the away fans who were celebrating first as an audacious 40-yard strike from Jhon Córdoba caught a distant David Ospina off-guard, as the German side took the lead.
It would take until the second half for Arsenal to respond, as super sub Sead Kolašinac fired the Gunners ahead with an outstanding volley five minutes after the restart. Alexis Sánchez put the North London side ahead eight minutes past the hour mark, as the Chilean attacker drifted in from the right wing, and curled in an outstanding strike from outside the box to give Arsenal the lead.
Héctor Bellerín sealed the three points for Arsenal eight minutes from time, when the Spanish right back slide in on a loss Timo Horn save to make it 3-1 to Arsenal, and to get the Gunners off to a winning start in the Europa League.
Pre match antics
Before a ball had even been kicked, there was some crowd trouble that saw the game delayed for a whole hour, as Köln fans stormed the Emirates Stadium through a turnstile, and the stewards were outmatched for the 20,000 Köln fans that had descended into London for the game.
UEFA officials debated whether or not that game should even go ahead, however it was decided that it was the safest decision for the match to go ahead tonight than to clear everyone out, and rearrange the game to a further date.
With the game feeling more like an away fixture for the Gunners due to the number of Köln fans in the ground, as well as the passion and pyro that comes with it, the game kicked off at 9:05pm.
The away team at home
The game had promised to an entertaining one, and it only took 10 minutes for the first goal to be scored as Córdoba put the visitors ahead in stunning fashion.
Ospina fled his goal to boot clear a dangerous looking ball, however his clearance was sloppy, and the ball fell straight to Córdoba from 40-yards out. With the Arsenal keeper in no-mans land, the Köln striker turned, and fired a beautiful strike over the head of Ospina, and into the back of the net, to give the Bundesliga side the opening goal of the game.
Arsenal struggled to start their first Europa League game in over 17 years. Theo Walcott found it hard to remain offside, Sánchez had been marked out by the Köln defence, and Olivier Giroud lacked the service to cause the German defence any problems.
As the first half passed, and eventually ended, Arsenal were no better off when the whistle went for kick-off. The Gunners looked uninterested, unmotivated, and sloppy. A familiar pattern that has been seen too many times at the Emirates over the past 12 months.
Changes at the break
The start of the second half saw the introduction of summer signing Kolašinac for Rob Holding, as Arsene Wenger switched the Arsenal shape to a back four, with Per Mertesacker and Nacho Monreal as the centre backs, and Bellerín and Kolašinac as the fullbacks.
The switch worked instantly, as four minutes into the second half, Kolašinac had levelled the game up for Arsenal.
Walcott worked his way through the Köln box with an expertly timed run, and when his cross was blocked by a Leonardo Bittencourt, the ball fell for the Bosnian defender, and the summer signing from Schalke thundered the ball past Horn with powerful volley, to level the game for Arsenal.
Despite the huge confidence boost, Arsenal still found it difficult to find ways to break down the Köln defence, with the best chance coming from Ainsley Maitland-Niles 64 minutes in, when the England youth international’s strike from close range was well matched by a dashing Horn.
As Jack Wilshere was preparing to enter the battlefield for the first time since 2016, Sánchez sent the Emirates into raptures as the Chilean winger put the Gunners ahead for the first time in the evening.
The former Barcelona winger collected the ball down the right wing, and after dancing his way through the Köln defence, Sánchez let rip from 20-yards out, sending the ball into the top corner with an exquisite finish, to give Arsenal the lead.
It looked to be game over for Köln, and that status was cemented eight minutes from fulltime, when Bellerin made it 3-1 to the hosts.
After a well-worked counter attack orchestrated by Sánchez found its way to Walcott, the England international tried his luck with a snapshot from close range. Despite his strike being well parried by Horn, Bellerin was on the ball in an instance, and the Spanish fullback slide in Arsenal’s third goal of half, to seal the game for the Gunners.