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Arsenal 3-1 Koln: Kolasinac, Sanchez spare Gunners blushes

Europa League By: Collins Udeme | 14/09/2017

Two second half masterpieces from Sead Kolasinac and Alexis Sanchez spared Arsenal an embarrassing start to their 2017-18 Europa League as the North London outfit came from behind to beat Bundesliga side Koln 3-1 in their continental curtain raiser at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday.

David Ospina’s blunder and lack of closing down by the home side's midfield gifted Cologne a shock 1-0 lead just after nine minutes. The Colombian goalkeeper rushed out to deal with a long ball over the top from the Bundesliga side, but couldn’t generate enough distance on his kick. Jhon Cordoba took full advantage of the slip-up, firing home a superb long-range effort over the Arsenal ‘keeper and into the back of the net.

Sead Kolasinac who came on for Rob Holding at half time brought Arsenal back on level having only been on the pitch for five minutes. The Bosnian powered home a half volley to draw Arsenal level. The strike from Kolasinac was the Gunners' 200th home European goal under the management of Arsene Wenger. 

Seven minutes after the hour mark, Alexis Sanchez who has been a subject of much speculations in the last couple of months was on hand to put the Gunners in front. The Chilean darted in from the left after collecting a pass from Iwobi, held off numerous challenges and then curled a powerful and sensational effort inside the far post. A poacher's goal from Bellerin in the final eight minutes made sure Arsenal got their first Europa League campaign in 17 years to a positive start.

SETTING THE SCENE

The Gunners were made to wait an hour longer than expected for the kickoff, with fan trouble seeing the game delayed as a number of the travelling supporters were seated in the home sections.

It was no surprise to see Arsene Wenger rotate his side as this competition is unlikely to be a priority for him this season coupled with a daunting trip to Chelsea in the Premier League this weekend. The Frenchman fielded a number of squad players such as Nigeria's Alex Iwobi, David Ospina, Mohamed Elneny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

Sanchez's inclusion may have been an opportunity for him to get fully fit for the trip to Stamford Bridge, having arrived back late for pre-season this summer. With Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka both rested ahead of the Premier League showdown with Chelsea, Wenger went with Mohamed Elneny and Iwobi in the engine room.

Iwobi isn’t a recognised central midfield player, having spent the majority of his time at the Gunners out wide as a traditional winger. However, the Nigerian’s lack of experience in the position didn't stop Wenger from selecting an attacking player to anchor his midfield ahead of more recognised players like Jack Wilshere – who started on the bench.

Arsenal are playing at this level for the first time in 17 years, having made it to the final of what was then called the UEFA Cup back in the 1999/00 season.

It hardly seemed worth the wait when a piece of individual brilliance from Jhon Cordoba caught us out in the 10th minute.

David Ospina rushed out to clear from outside his box and, when the ball was knocked back into Cordoba’s feet, he had the presence of mind to spin and launch a shot from 40 yards that sailed over the retreating goalkeeper and into the net.

That setback - and the noise being generated by the Cologne fans - made this feel like an away match at times. But having carved out half-chances in the first half - mostly through Olivier Giroud headers - Arsenal turned the screw after the break.

Kolasinac’s half-time introduction and a switch to 4-2-3-1 paid immediate dividends when the Bosnian lashed home a volley after Theo Walcott’s attempted cross had flicked up off a defender.

Cologne, having looked neat and tidy early on, were now retreating. And Alexis, too deep to do damage in the first half, increasingly found himself in dangerous positions.

The Chilean made it count when he chased the ball down on the left touchline, dribbled inside, evaded two defenders and worked himself just enough space to curl a sumptuous shot inside the far post. The keeper barely moved.

Jack Wilshere came on seconds later - a year and 14 days after his last first-team appearance - and received one of the biggest cheers of the night.

Hector Bellerin added some gloss to the win, showing desire to reach a rebound first and fire past Timo Horn after Walcott’s shot had been saved.
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