Arsenal have secured top-spot in Group H, despite picking up their first Europa League defeat in a frustrating evening at the RheinEnergieStadion, as FC Köln held on for a 1-0 victory.
The Gunners were left chasing a result after Köln’s Sehrou Guirassy put the Bundesliga outfit ahead from the spot in the second half, but a 0-0 draw in the opposing fixture between Red Star Belgrade and BATE Borisov confirmed Arsenal’s status as group winners.
In a game marked by the returns of David Ospina and Danny Welbeck, Arsène Wenger also turned to Calum Chambers in a bid to shore up the right side of Arsenal’s line-up, with an under-the-weather Reiss Nelson dropped to the substitute’s bench.
Starting steadily, the Gunners were quick to break into an attack through Ainsley Maitland-Niles from the left, with the Englishman testing Timo Horn inside the box as early as the 2nd minute.
The contest proceeded to offer little else by the means of inspiration from both sides, limiting the North Londoners to shots at goal from Francis Coquelin, threatening to end his four-year-wait for a professional goal with a shot past Horn’s post from range in the 13th minute.
Arsenal’s French midfielder would pick up a taste for the goal hunt, meeting the ball from the left-hand-side of Köln’s area and bringing the visitors closer to the game’s first goal with a half-volley against the goalkeeper’s near-post.
The deadlock would be maintained going into half-time, however, keeping Arsenal atop of Group H for the time being.
Wenger would turn to Alex Iwobi in the second-half, replacing Welbeck, as a compact Köln outfit promised to provide much of the same lack of intensity that was witnessed in the first period.
That was until Guirassy was presented with the opportunity to hurt Arsenal from the edge of the box, only for the French striker to fire a tame effort into Ospina’s grasp.
Guirassy would be back, however, and this time with a penalty to convert in the 62nd minute after the ex-Lille forward clashed with Mathieu Debuchy inside to box.
Köln retained their faith in the striker, who wouldn’t disappoint from the 12-yard-mark and place Arsenal a goal down with approximately 30 minutes left on the clock.
Reiss Nelson almost drew the required inspiration off the bench with a mazy solo run in the 89th minute, complete with a toe-poke at Horn’s goal before the German’s intervention.
Jack Wilshere would also try his luck late on, but the efforts wouldn’t be enough to avoid a 1-0 defeat away from home against a rigid Köln outfit.
By Patrick Ribeiro
David Ospina (4) – Mathieu Debuchy (5), Per Mertesacker (6), Rob Holding (5) – Calum Chambers (5), Francis Coquelin (6), Mohamed Elneny (5), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6) – Jack Wilshere (6), Danny Welbeck (5) – Olivier Giroud (4)
Subs: Alex Iwobi (6), Reiss Nelson (6), Eddie Nketiah (N/A)