Arsenal 3-1 Cologne: Emirates’ Europa League opener raises more questions than answers after delay
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Where to start?
Maybe with a few questions.
A day of high drama in and around Highbury and Islington and the West End of London proved in terms of sporting fervour nothing will ever come close to the passion of true football fans.
But why, when Arsenal officially sold 2,900 tickets to the Bundesliga club playing their first game in Europe since the 1992-93 season were there at the most conservative estimate more than 11,000 away fans in the Emirates?
Why, when well-informed sources in Germany insisted there would be 20,000 fans travelling to London did the authorities not help the hard-pressed officers on duty with a large number of re-inforcements to prevent the more unruly elements of the Cologne fans rush the gates?
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Certainly after the first reports of thousands of Billy Goats fans marching through Wardour Street and central London many hours before kick-off. In such a well-publicised development even the legendary veteran filmmaker Ken Loach captured them from a second floor window near Noel Street, W1?
Why - when Arsenal proudly announced that no supporter joining the membership scheme after the draw was made would be allowed to buy tickets for Thursday evening’s match – were there Billy Goats’ fans in every section of the ground including Club Level?
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Will the answers reveal there is something rotten at the heart of the club?
Most loyal fans will surely hope not – but when home fans are routinely thrown out for persistent standing, when caps on bottles of water for children after gleefully confiscated by stewards while more than 4,500 away bounce in the upper tiers and light flares something is drastically wrong in the state of N5.
On the pitch wasn’t much better as Cologne went ahead through a Jhon Cordoba lob from distance over David Ospina to send the visiting hordes into deep joy to make it 1-0 to the Billy Goats.
As flares were lit in the away end the noise levels reached Fever Pitch.
With the endeavour on the pitch admirable during the rest of the first half – the off-field viewing was just as intriguing as the German fans even took over the normally staid Club Level – Cologne, led by former Austria Vienna coach Peter Stoger deservedly went in ahead.
With the attendance announced during the interval as 59,359 some wags claimed the figure was an estimate of how many away fans were at the Emirates.
Whatever Wenger said to his team during the break, they were soon level. Despite the Frenchman receiving plaudits for the quality of his teams up to around 2006, not even the Invincibles could win in Europe.
And with memories cast back to the club’s last game in the Europa League/UEFA Cup – a dreadful loss on penalties to Galatasaray in the final of 2000 – it is a fact that the long-serving Frenchman has simply been good enough in European club competitions.
However, none of that mattered as Arsenal fans proved they could be as ear-splitting as their German counterparts by celebrating loudly after Sead Kolasinac’s sweetly timed left-footed volley after persistence from Theo Walcott in the box on 48 minutes. It wasn’t a bad introduction to the game after the powerful Bosnian had only replaced Holding 180 seconds earlier as he made it two goals and two assists in five appearances for Arsenal so far.
The home side then pressed for a second and were rewarded through a mixture of ability and persistence by Alexis Sanchez.
Those who suggested he would sulk at being denied his move to Manchester City simply don’t understand the drive of the man. And his deep love of playing football honed on the dusty streets of Tocopila, his hometown.
On 67 minutes he found himself out on the left wing. No matter. He simply ran at the defence. And ran. And ran. Until he had cut in so far he was central to Timo Horn’s goal. Sensing that the end of his journey had come, he fired off an exquisite curler that evaded the German keeper – who played in the 2016 Olympics final against Brazilians – to make it 2-1 to Arsenal.
Sanchez could have added another moments later but his intended curler didn’t swerve.
And as the clock ticked down it was time for the home fans to show they could cheer too as they loudly acclaimed Jack Wilshere’s return to the fold after a long year away.
There was even time for Hector Bellerin to slam home a third as the visitors kept up their constant chanting to well known songs, as Arsenal wrapped up the game 3-1 through Hector Bellerin to make a winning start in Group H of the Europa League.
But with the goings-on before the game perhaps Cologne fans missed a trick in not adding that old Johnny Nash favourite to their repertoire: ‘There are more questions than answers’.
Ospina, Mertesacker, Sanchez, Giroud, Walcott (Nelson), Holding (Kolasinac), Iwobi (Wilshere), Monreal, Bellerin, Maitland-Niles, Elneny
Cologne: Horn, Heintz, Hoger, Zoller, Hector, Cordoba, Bittencourt, Mere, Klunter, Lehmann, Rausch
Referee: Javier Estrada