Arsenal eased into the round of 16 of the UEFA Europa League with a 3-0 win over BATE Borisov at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday night, to complete a turnaround against the Belarusian side.
Unai Emery’s men were miserable in the away leg last week as they went down to a shock 1-0 defeat, but an aggregate 3-1 triumph was secured with a minimum of fuss after cancelling out the deficit early.
Zakhar Volkov’s fourth minute own goal was followed by a second from Shkodran Mustafi six minutes before the interval, with substitute Sokratis Papastathopoulos making sure of passage into the next round of the competition with a header on the hour mark. Visitors BATE offered little in response and Emery was able to breathe easily as his side chased further goals in a competition that may yet define his first season in London.
BATE had already survived a couple of early scares when, with four minutes on the clock, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang tore down the right and centred, seeing Volkov stab awkwardly into his own net after Egor Filipenko failed to clear at the near post. Apparently unable to shut up shop, the visitors then went on the offensive and Stephan Lichtsteiner was required to scramble clear from the Arsenal goal line as Stanislav Dragun found himself unmarked.
That opportunity only briefly disrupted Arsenal’s dominance, though, and they edged in front in the tie for the first time before the break, with Mustafi powering home a header from Granit Xhaka’s corner. The Gunners’ momentum slowed following the restart, but another Xhaka corner led to the nerve-settling third as Denis Scherbitski charged out and was beaten in the air by towering fit-again substitute Sokratis.
Emery told Mesut Ozil ahead of this match that it was up to him to prove his worth after time out of the starting XI. But Alex Iwobi was Arsenal’s creative force during the early stages as they sought a swift breakthrough. The Nigerian quickly forced a save from Scherbitski and almost curled in a gorgeous second after the own goal, with his movement causing BATE persistent problems.
Meanwhile, captain Laurent Koscielny has suffered with injury after injury over recent seasons and he provided further concern early in the second half as he bowed out for Sokratis, seemingly suffering with another knock. The Frenchman had scarcely been tested, but this went down as another difficult night, with the Gunners now sweating on the seriousness of his latest injury.
Otherwise, it was a good night for the Gunners who now turn their focus on the race to finish in the Premier League’s top four when they host Southampton; the team that ended Emery’s 22-match unbeaten run earlier in the season. With fourth placed Manchester United facing title challengers Liverpool also on Sunday, Iwobi and co will hope the Reds do them a favour.