Arsenal became the first team since Tottenham Hotspur in 2013 to complete a Europa League group stage with six victories as they ended a tough year for Dundalk, who played their final game of the calendar year, with a victory in Ireland.
Eddie Nketiah’s early goal was the sign of a striker with self confidence, dinking the ball over the goalkeeper after pouncing on a poor defensive clearance and six minutes later, Mohamed Elneny found the top corner from long range to score only his third goal for Arsenal.
Jordan Flores, formerly of Wigan Athletic, Blackpool, Chesterfield and Fylde pulled a goal back as the hosts, buoyed by winning some form of silverware for the eighth consecutive season, played far better than their competition form and coefficient would suggest.
Joe Willock’s effort 25 minutes from time gave Arsenal back their breathing space which was extended by a calm and composed finish from Folarin Balogun, though the hosts managed another consolation goal from Sean Hoare.
Mikel Arteta changed all 11 players from Sunday’s derby defeat, and named fewer players to the bench than normal to play the Irish Cup champions – who themselves have to play their European games at another ground, the same ground at which they won the cup last weekend.
Nketiah broke the deadlock inside 12 minutes after pouncing on Andrew Boyle’s mistake and dinking the ball over Gary Rogers – his fifth goal of the season making him Arsenal’s top scorer in all competitions!
It took barely six more minutes for Elneny to find the top corner with an absolute rocket – his third for the club and a first for Arsenal since match day six of the Europa League group stage in 2017 against BATE Borisov.
But five minutes later, the hosts responded with a viciously hit effort, making the trip to the Emirates the only game of the group stage in which Dundalk failed to score and compounding the defensive questions for the London side.
The home side had a great chance to level the scores on the stroke of half time, but Darragh Leahy’s effort was blocked over by the returning Calum Chambers.
The game ebbed and flowed in the second half but neither team could create a decent chance in the opening fifteen minutes of the half, until Cedric’s free kick from just outside the penalty area forced a decent, albeit expected, save from Rogers just after the hour mark.
After impressive hold up play from Balogun, Willock extended the Arsenal lead 25 minutes from time, slotting in a low effort under the goalkeeper to score his third of this season’s group stage.
It wasn’t long before Balogun himself got on the scoresheet, curling a simple effort after clever hold up play from Pepe, as Ben Cottrell and Miguel Azeez were both rewarded with first team debuts.
The hosts pulled another goal back as Hoare headed in from Flores’ free kick with five minutes to go but they couldn’t avoid falling to a sixth group stage defeat, the first team to do so in this competition since Gabala from Azerbaijan in 2016.
The result means Arsenal were the only team in both European competitions this season to win all six of their group games.
Man of the match: Nicolas Pepe
Dundalk: Rogers, Hoare, Boyle (Gartland HT), Cleary, Gannon (Mountney 54′), Shields, Flores, Leahy, McEleney (Colovic 77′), Duffy (Wynne 77′), McMillan (Kelly 53′)
Subs not used: McCarey, Corcoran, Sloggett, Dummigan,
Arsenal: Runarsson, Chambers, Mustafi, Mari, Cedric, Willock (Azeez 83′), Elneny (Ceballos 62′), Maitland-Niles, Smith Rowe (Cottrell 77′), Pepe, Nketiah (Balogun 62′)
Subs not used: Macey, Hein, Saka, Holding.