Cologne 1-0 Arsenal: Rheinenergie Stadion is heaven on earth for Billy Goats as Peter Stoger's side clinch hard-fought victory
PUBLISHED: 20:03 23 November 2017 | UPDATED: 20:03 23 November 2017
Cologne beat Arsenal 1-0 in their Europa League match in a frenzied atmosphere in Germany on Thursday night.
A second half penalty from Sehrou Guirassy was enough to clinch a hard fought victory against the Gunners to send their passionate fans wild.
Arsenal had beenaiming to seal their position at the top of their UEFA Europa League group on Thursday when they visited rock-bottom Cologne.
With Arsene Wenger’s side sitting pretty at the head of Group H with two matches remaining in Group H prior to kick-off and a five-point lead over second placed Red Star Belgrade in the runners-up spot, the Frenchman picked another young side laced with a few old heads.
A point would have been enough for them to win the group winner with Cologne requiring a win to stay in mathematical contention for the knock-out stages at the very least.
The North Londoners were looking to become the first English team to win away at five different German opponents in all European competition.
There were no surprises in the side Wenger picked, certainly after the Islington Gazette paid a visit to watch a light training session at London Colney on Wednesday morning before the team flew out to Germany.
Olivier Giroud returned after missing the victory in the North London derby with a niggle picked up on international duty for France. Jack Wilshere returned to first-team action, along with David Opsina for Petr Cech, as Mathieu Debuchy was drafted in at right-back as Danny Welbeck started, along with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Francis Coquelin, who was withdrawn from the fray two weeks ago at Manchester City after a disappointing display.
The visitors could have grabbed an early goal after Ainsley Maitland-Niles had a left footed shot from an acute angle saved low by Timo Horn, as being freed by Wilshere.
On six minutes the Billy Goats, as they are known, could have gone ahead but for a good reaction save from David Ospina from Jhon Cordoba who let fly from distance.
Francis Coquelin then fired narrowly wide on 13 minutes as Arsenal moved the ball well with Wilshere always looking to receive the ball and drive.
Koln Stadion has changed considerably since this correspondent watched Arsenal play Boroussia Moenchengladbach here in 1996, going to 3-2 to a hat-trick from Andrez Juskowiak, as the Gunners slipped to a 3-2 defeat which saw them knocked out of the old UEFA Cup 6-4 on aggregate.
What hasn’t changed is the superb atmosphere generated by passionate German football fans, and at times in the first half in this sold-out 55, 000 capacity ground the ears hurt from the noise. What was good, also, was to hear the thousands of loyal Gooners massed in the away end make their voices heard too, after a convivial after spent in the hostelry’s of this very welcoming and civilised Northern Germany city.
The match was an open one, with both sides intent on attacking at every opportunity. What was lacking, on both sides, was the quality of the final ball – despite Wilshere’s prompting as he dropped off to invariably collect the ball the deep-lying Mohamed Eleny.
But as the Russian referee Vladislav Bezborodov blew for half-time it was very much honours even in a match full of endeavour but notably lacking in goals.
Alex Iwobi for Welbeck was the only change during the half-time interval.
The deadlock was broken in the 62nd minute after the former Lille and Auxuerre forward Sehrou Guriassay was felled in the box and Bezbodorodov immediately pointed to the spot. The 21-year-old Guirassy picked himself and calmly slotted home to make it 1-0 to the home side.
It was a tough ask for Arsenal to get back into the game knowing Peter Stoger’s side have only lost two of their last 20 home games in the UEFA Cup or Europa League, though the losses have come in their last five games.
There was a glimmer of hope as Wenger’s men have scored in each of their last 13 away games in European competition, last failing to find the net in September 2014 in a 0-2 defeat by Borussia Dortmund.
However, the Germans were spurred on by the goal and the atmosphere rose even more as the whole ground thundered their support for the struggling Billy Goats who sit adrift at the bottom of the Bundesliga with only two points gained all season.
You couldn’t tell on this performance however, as the fans united behind the players – before the match with the anthemic Koln Hymn to the tune of ‘You Take The High Road’. The opening of which, roughly translated, runs ‘Up or down we go with you through the fire/Because we are fans from FC Cologne’. The boisterous home fans even proceeded to boom a thunderous adaptation of Belinda Carlise’s 1988 hit single ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’.
The highly-rated Eddie Nketiah came on for Debuchy in a bid to restore parity. He nearly equalised from close range late on but the ball trickled the wrong side of Horn’s right-hand post before Wilshere had a vicious shot tipped away by Horn as the Billy Goats saw out the game in a raucous atmosphere.
Arsenal have bigger fish to fry – not least in attempting to replicate their impressive intensity they showed against Spurs during what will surely be a difficult trip to Turf Moor on Sunday - but for one night only Cologne was heaven on earth for its long-suffering fans as they notched up a memorable victory