Theo Walcott brace eases Arsenal past BATE Borisov
Borisov Arena, Europa League - BATE Borisov 2 (Ivanic 28' Gordeichuk 67') Arsenal 4 (Walcott 9' 22' Holding 25' Giroud 49' pen)
Arsene Wenger rested players such as Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil for a potentially tricky tie in Belarus, but he had little to worry about.
Arsenal won their second consecutive group match, with a victory made possible by a superb performance by Jack Wilshere. His drive from midfield created both goals for Walcott, then Holding got his first for the club from a corner. Mirko Ivanic gave the home side hope with a great header.
In the second half, Olivier Giroud scored his 100th goal for the Gunners – a penalty – after the ref harshly penalised Dragun for holding Mustafi's shirt. However, slack defending allowed Mikhail Gordeichuk to score his side's second.
A nervy finish stretched Arsenal at the back, but their brilliant opening blitz had secured victory.
Wilshere showed what he is capable of, but he must find consistency. We all know that Wilshere has terrible luck with injuries, and that he is often his worst enemy in terms of behaving himself off the pitch. But what we haven't seen for years now is a performance like his against Borisov. He was full of direct running and strength, allied to superb passing for those around him. It was only Borisov, and there is a way to go yet, but this is either a frustrating reminder or a glimpse of a potential recovery.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Theo Walcott (Arsenal): Wilshere was at the heart of the victory, but another superb performer was Theo Walcott. He rarely shows a ruthlessness in front of goal, but his early contributions let Arsenal relax into the game rather than panic in an unfamiliar country and competition. Like Wilshere, consistency is the key for him.
Arsenal's Theo Walcott scores their first goalReuters
BATE Borisov: Scherbitski 6, Rios 6, Gaiduchik 6, Milunovic 5, Polyakov 6, Volodko 6, Dragun 5, Gordeichuk 7, Ivanic 7, Stasevich 5, Rodionov 6. Subs: Signevich 7, Baga 6.
9' - GOAL! BATE 0-1 Arsenal. Walcott scores - Wilshere plays a one-two into the box off Giroud, and he clips in a cross from the left for Walcott to head in from a few yards out.
22' - GOAL! BATE 0-2 Arsenal. Walcott scores - Scherbitski receives a back pass, and he scuffs a clearance as Giroud closes in. It goes straight to Walcott, who has a simple shot straight past the 'keeper and into the far corner.
25' - GOAL! BATE 0-3 Arsenal. Holding scores - The corner is swung in from the left, Mertesacker meets it, it comes off Holding's shins, and that's three.
28' - GOAL! BATE 1-3 Arsenal. Ivanic scores - It's a great header from Ivanic, meeting a cross from Rios at the near post, and it flies into the top near corner and past Ospina.
48' - PENALTY! Walcott sends in a cross from a free kick, and Dragun is penalised for holding Mustafi's shirt. It's a soft one, certainly.
49' - GOAL! BATE 1-4 Arsenal. Giroud scores - From the spot, Giroud sends a well-struck low shot to his left, with the keeper going the other way.
67' - GOAL! BATE 2-4 Arsenal. Gordeichuk scores - A cross from the left comes to Holding who fails to deal with it, it's played on to Gordeichuk, and Mertesacker can't react quickly enough before he stabs home.