Arsenal dominate as Dundalk slump to defeat

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The match finished 3-0 after goals from Nketiah, Willock and Pepe

There was a palpable sense of excitement as Dundalk took on Arsenal in the Europa League group stage tonight. Dundalk were considered massive underdogs going into the match. There really wasn’t a great deal of expectation on their shoulders. Most were just happy to see a League of Ireland side compete at a high European level. Anything other than a loss would have been nice for Dundalk but realistically that was never likely, particularly given the club’s domestic form this season and the loss in their last Europa League outing.

The difference in quality showed in the end as Arsenal ran out 3-0 winners, but Dundalk can be largely happy with their performance. Dundalk can’t have too many complaints about the scoreline given some of the results we’ve seen in Europe over the past few months.

Dundalk went with a back five for this game as opposed to their usual four at the back. This would be a sign of things to come as Dundalk remained on the backfoot for the majority of the game. They held a very low line as Arsenal dominated possession and tried to fashion opportunities, but to Dundalk’s credit, they defended very well for much of the game.

They were very good in the first half, particularly. Arsenal tried and tried to break down the opposition defence and struggled at nearly every occasion as Dundalk held their line well and kept the Gunners at bay. In fact, it took Arsenal 30 odd minutes to get their first shot on target. In contrast, Dundalk managed to test the Arsenal keeper after just 4 minutes as McEleney let fly from distance. His shot was low and powerful as the keeper tipped the ball behind for a corner which came to nothing.

Although Dundalk did have the first opportunity of the game, they weren’t exactly positive in their game plan for most of the match. They mainly relied on counter attacks to provide attacking output and rarely kept possession in the final third.

Michael “Thierry” Duffy was much talked about prior to the match as being one to watch but he failed to make an impact like he normally does. Nevertheless, it would have been a special occasion for the Derry man who’s a big Arsenal fan himself.

Dundalk nearly went into half time with a clean sheet, but Arsenal finally managed to break through with a goal in the 42nd minute. Unfortunately for Dundalk, it was a goalkeeper mistake that led to the goal as Gary Rogers failed to deal with a corner and it was an easy tap in for Eddie Nketiah in the end. The goal was very unfortunate and cruel for Gary Rogers who has been a reliable keeper for a dominant Dundalk side over the years.

It didn’t take long before it was 2-0 as an unfortunate deflection off a Dundalk player fell to the feet of Joe Willock. He made no mistake as he finished into the roof of the net in the 44th minute.

The final goal came just after the second half begun. Gary Rogers could do nothing about the strike this time as Nicolas Pepe launched a missile of a strike into the net. Pepe failed to get going before his goal, but his strike demonstrated the quality he possess. He took the strike on with his weak foot as he was being closed down by onrushing Dundalk defenders, but he didn’t panic under pressure as his effort whistled into the top right corner. Brilliant goal. In truth, Arsenal could do with more consistency from the Ivorian winger as he’s failed to live up to his price tag thus far. Clearly he has a lot to offer but he must start doing so on a consistent basis.

After a frantic few minutes for Dundalk both sides of the half, they defended well again afterwards and ended Arsenal’s goalscoring exploits. The back three of Brian Gartland, Andy Boyle and Daniel Cleary performed admirably as they held their line well and helped to avoid disgrace at the hands of Arsenal. Chris Shields also performed well in a deeper midfield role as he broke up play a handful of times to relieve pressure.

Dundalk’s next fixture is an important match away to St. Pat’s on Sunday. Dundalk currently sit 3rd in the league table on 25 points. There are just 3 European spots up for grabs and Dundalk have missed out on the top 2 as Shamrock Rovers have claimed the League title and Bohemians sit comfortably in second. That means that Dundalk must hold their position in 3rd place. That won’t be an easy task, however, as Waterford and Sligo sit 1 and 3 points behind respectively.  Dundalk have qualified for Europe every season since 2013 so it would be a shame to see that run end, especially for Dundalk fans and players.

In terms of their next European date, they travel to Poland next Thursday to take on Rapid Wein. Like Dundalk, Wein have lost their previous Europa League group games after losing to Molde tonight. Needless to say, it should be a more competitive game than what we seen tonight.

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