Youngster Emile Smith Rowe, out-of-favour Aaron Ramsey impress in win over Vorskla
Arsenal easily secured top spot in their Europa League group by brushing aside a lacklustre FC Vorskla side 3-0 on Thursday, as three first-half goals turned this into a routine evening for a youthful Gunners team.
Teenagers Emile Smith Rowe and Joe Willock both scored either side of an Aaron Ramsey penalty as Unai Emery's team shrugged off the freezing temperatures to dominate the hosts, who barely looked interested in playing after having the game moved from Poltava to Kiev because of security concerns.
Smith Rowe, 18, scored his third goal in six appearances this season before Ramsey converted a penalty he earned himself by going down lightly in the box. Willock, making his first start under Emery, then added the third before the break with a composed finish into the far corner for his first Arsenal goal.
The second half was mainly a procession, with Smith Rowe having a second goal ruled out for a foul in the build-up.
This trip couldn't have gone much better for the Gunners. The relocation of the game to Kiev saved them a nightmare journey to Poltava and this was their easiest win of the season by far. One shouldn't get carried away considering the poor performance of the opposition, but the club's academy youngsters showed again that there could be a bright future ahead at the Emirates.
And the win means Arsenal are guaranteed to finish first in Group E, meaning Emery can give even more youngsters playing time in their final game against Qarabag.
Hard to think of any on an evening like this. Arsenal did allow Vorskla to get off 12 attempts despite rarely getting into any dangerous positions, but only two of them were on target. Perhaps one could argue that they should have created more in the second half, but the final 45 minutes were just about seeing the game out.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Emery understandably left all his Premier League regulars at home for this trip and played what could be viewed as the weakest lineup of his Arsenal tenure so far. But it was clearly the right call and it turned this tricky trip into a valuable learning experience for the dozen academy youngsters that were on the plane.
Emery deserves credit for continuing Arsene Wenger's long-standing tradition of putting his faith in the club's youth and there's every reason to believe the likes of Smith Rowe, Eddie Nketiah and Willock will flourish under the new manager. Three other teenagers also got to make their debut off the bench in the second half.
In addition, Arsenal will have 11 well-rested starters for the North London Derby on Sunday.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Petr Cech, 6 -- Hardly had anything to do against a toothless Vorskla side but made a good stop in the second half when he was quick off his line to block a shot.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 6 -- Won't have an easier evening all season as he was rarely troubled by Vorskla's attackers. Should arguably provide more of an attacking threat against such weak opposition.
DF Carl Jenkinson, 7 -- Filled in at centre-back and looked composed and confident, showing a willingness to play the ball forward with his feet. Put himself in the shop window again for January.
DF Rob Holding, 6 -- Another solid performance at the heart of Arsenal's defence and showed some nice technical skill when playing himself out of danger at times.
DF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, 6 -- Arsenal's main utility man filled in at left-back and looked right at home, offering Emery another alternative in a position that has been a trouble spot because of injuries.
MF Matteo Guendouzi, 6 -- A controlled but fairly quiet performance by the French teenager. Helped the Gunners control central midfield which freed up the attacking players to push forward.
MF Mohamed Elneny, 7 -- Provided a very safe pair of feet in midfield, always making himself available and easing the pressure on the back four. Also provided a nice assist on Willock's goal.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 7 -- Arsenal's main creative force in midfield and bossed proceedings in the first half, finally imposing himself on weaker opposition after a couple of bland performances in this competition. Quieter in the second half but if he played like this regularly he could put himself back in contention for a Premier League start.
MF Emile Smith Rowe, 8 -- Showed again why he's considered one of the club's top prospects, scoring his third goal in six appearances and having another ruled out after the break. Also helped create Arsenal's second goal and was always looking to take on defenders down the left flank.
MF Joe Willock, 7 -- Looked quite isolated at times out on the right flank, which isn't his natural position, but drifted inside to get more involved and showed great composure to score his first Arsenal goal. Grew in confidence after that and wasn't afraid to take players on.
FW Eddie Nketiah, 7 -- Couldn't' quite find his scoring touch but combined well with Ramsey to set up the first goal and led the line in impressive fashion. Showed nifty footwork at times and nearly set Ramsey up for a fourth after the break.
DF Zech Medley, 7 -- The first of three teenagers to make his debut off the bench, playing the final 30 minutes and showing hints of why he could become the first academy centre-back in decades to become a first-team regular.
MF Bukayo Saka, 7 -- The 17-year-old winger replaced Ramsey in the 68th and also showed flashes of his flair and skill down the flank.
MF Charlie Gilmour, N/R -- Came on for Guendouzi in midfield and helped Arsenal see out the game without any problems.