Arsenal 1-0 FC Zurich: Kierney’s sublime first-half strike was enough to keep the Gunners top of Europa League Group A

Arsenal seal a Europa League last-16 spot thanks to Kierney’s first goal of the season; Arsenal have won all nine of their home games in all competitions this season, their longest such run at the start of a season since 2009-10 (11).

Kierney’s sublime first-half strike was enough to keep Arsenal top of Europa League Group A as FC Zurich were defeated 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium on a tense night.

Tierney held his cool to stab a finish from the outside of the box just after the quarter-hour mark, but it wasn’t enough for Mikel Arteta’s side, who complete their group-stage campaign with only eight goals from six games.

Zurich came close to equalising when Adrian Guerrero’s finish was ruled out for offside but the result means the Gunners are now unbeaten in 14 home matches in all competitions, with PSV now facing a play-off against a third-place finisher in the Champions League.

Zurich’s failure to better Bodo/Glimt’s result means it is the Norwegians who finish third in Group A, qualifying for the Europa Conference League knockout-round play-off, where they will face a group runner-up from that competition.

Arteta’s focus now shifts to domestic action, with Arsenal hoping to maintain their position atop the Premier League table when they visit Chelsea on Sunday, although they will be without Takehiro Tomiyasu, who was forced out in the dying stages with an injury.

“We always aim to start faster, but there are always opponents who want to make it as difficult as possible,” added the Gunners manager. “We knew it was going to be difficult. We struggled to gain traction, and we had adjust because we had little control over some things. We figured out a means to win.

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“Losing football matches is part of it, as it happens, but it’s how you react to that, analyse what happened and come back stronger as a team. We’ve done that in the last two games and now it’s onto Stamford Bridge.”

The Gunners knew they’d win Group A if they equaled PSV Eindhoven’s result away to Bodo/Glimt – or if the Dutch club lost – but they seized the lead against the run of play on 17 minutes.

Reiss Nelson linked with Ben White down the right before Fabio Vieira’s blocked attempt fell pleasantly for Tierney to fire a perfect strike low into the bottom corner in the 5-0 triumph over Nottingham Forest.

It was the Scotland full-back’s first goal of the season, and Arsenal came close to doubling their advantage five minutes later when Vieira set up Eddie Nketiah for a 25-yard drive that was parried to safety by Yanick Brecher.

Zurich arrived in North London in poor form; their comeback victory on Matchday 5 against Bodo/Glimt ended a run of 13 games without a win across all competitions, but they followed up that success with another defeat last Sunday against Sion.

The visitors threatened sporadically in the opening period, with Jonathan Okita’s deflected shot drawing a smart save from Aaron Ramsdale before Fidan Aliti’s header from a set-piece failed to trouble the Arsenal goalkeeper.

The Swiss club, who had only won one of their previous 17 away games in major European competitions – never beating an English club on their travels – ought to have fallen further behind when Vieira latched onto Nketiah’s clever pull-back but his shot was blocked by Gabriel Jesus, standing in an offside position.

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Vieira was always involved, having another tame shot blocked by Guerrero before the interval, and moments after the restart it was Jesus who would be denied by Brecher’s starfish save from point-blank range. It is now eight games without a goal for the Brazilian.

“It’s going to change,” Arteta vowed afterwards. “He’s getting the chances, he’s contributing to the team an awful lot. The way he competes is incredible.

“He needs to be patient as it’s happened in the past. He needs to learn from those lessons and not stop doing the things that are helping the team. That will maintain the level of him and the team.”

PSV were doubling their lead in Norway, meaning anxious faces in the stands, and those concerns were almost realised when Guerrero found the net after Ramsdale had kept out Antonio Marchesano’s first-shot back across goal.

The offside flag came to the rescue of Arsenal, who had summoned Bukayo Saka from the bench in search of the killer insurance goal. Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey were also introduced. Arteta wanted the comfort of a second, but this turned into a disjointed second-half display.

With PSV at home and behind Bodo/Glimt, Zurich manager Bo Henriksen saw a famous point that would have meant his team stealing the Europa Conference League play-off place.
Within the last 10 minutes, he called Bogdan V’Yunnik off the bench, and his clean shot arrowed just wide of Ramsdale’s post.

Arsenal hung on for victory, advancing them to the last 16 after Christmas, but it would come at a cost. Tomiyasu came in late, but was replaced before the final whistle due to a hamstring injury that might jeopardize his prospects of representing Japan at the World Cup.

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“We don’t know [the full degree of the injuries],” Arteta explained. “He sensed something and we didn’t want to take a chance; unfortunately, it happened to Tomi today, but the rest of us have to be ready because we’re going to need everyone; we’re not sure yet.”

Tierney’s winner keeps Arsenal on track for the time being. On Sunday, it’s Chelsea against. Aubamayeng.


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