Tommy Dickson/INPHO Joe Willock celebrates his goal.

Dundalk end Europa League campaign with defeat to Arsenal

Mikel Arteta’s side were 4-2 winners at the Aviva Stadium.

Dundalk 2

Arsenal 4

AND SO DUNDALK’S Europa League campaign ends without a point, the sixth defeat inflicted by Arsenal in another full-blooded, free-wheeling game in which Filippo Giovagnoli’s side left nothing to wonder. 

A mingling of Defensive errors  and opposition class meant Dundalk were deservedly beaten, but again they found the scoresheet again to vastly exceed their goalscoring return from Stephen Kenny’s campaign four years ago. Arsenal were 2-0 up here by the mid-point of the first-half, but a customary Jordan Flores stunner cut that deficit before half-time. 

Goals from Joe Willock and Folarin Balogun fastened the result for Arsenal, though Sean Hoare scored his second goal here in five days to give the scoreboard a little bit more sheen. 

Mikel Arteta named a totally different starting XI from Sunday’s defeat to Spurs, leaving so many of his heavy-hitters at home that he didn’t even name a full bench. Tonight’s team still featured a World Cup winner in Shkodran Mustafi, mind, along with their record signing Nicolas Pepe, whose €78 million transfer fee would not be covered even by the FAI’s ruinous and historic debt. 

Given those kinds of numbers, a clash with a League of Ireland side is never a level-playing field. And nor was the actual playing field here particularly level: it was muddy and bare and worsened by the pre-game downpour. 

Dundalk were intent not to sit as deep as they did during the 3-0 defeat at the Emirates, and theirs was the first attack a minute in. At the other end, though, they struggled with the vigour of Arsenal’s press, and twice they were almost punished before they were. Andy Boyle’s attempted clearance on the edge of the box was charged down by Eddie Nketiah, who added guile to his graft by delicately floating the ball over Gary Rogers. 

It was another sloppy goal for Dundalk to concede in a group littered with them. 

Five minutes later Arsenal doubled their lead in circumstances through means more palatable as Mohamed Elneny thumped a stunning effort into the top corner from range.

He was an unlikely goalscorer – it was his first goal for Arsenal in three years – and the quality of the goal was even more improbable: in the context of this game, the finish was more McEleney than Elneny. 

eddie-nketiah-celebrates-scoring-their-first-goal Tommy Dickson / INPHO Mohamed Elneny celebrates his goal. Tommy Dickson / INPHO / INPHO

Dundalk have another specialist in screamers, mind, and it was he who got them back in the game five minutes later: Jordan Flores collected the ball from Michael Duffy in the box and fired beyond stand-in goalkeeper Runar Runarsson with his right foot. 

Arsenal continued to force Rogers into action from range, but Dundalk hung doggedly in the game and might have equalised before the break, but for Darragh Leahy to see his back-post volley hit Calum Chambers and fly over the crossbar. 

Dundalk lost David McMillan early in the second half, who twanged a muscle when sprinting in support of Michael Duffy on a promising break early in the second half. 

Arsenal spent the second half jabbing at Dundalk and at the midway point they landed a blow: Chris Shields’ saw a clearance come right back at him, with the ball breaking for Joe Willock to shimmy and shoot beneath Rogers. 

Dundalk continued to toil without creating chances, with both Arteta and Shane Keegan shaking out their benches in the closing stages. One of those substitutes, Folarin Balogun, added Arsenal’s fourth when Willock found him in a generous patch of grass in the penalty area. 

Fresh from his Cup final heroics, Hoare scored again in the closing stages when he glanced home a Flores free-kick, while Calum Chambers was then denied a goal on his return by the offside flag. 

Arsenal go forth as group winners while Dundalk head into the off-season, with their immediate priority getting the bulk of their squad tied down to contracts for next season. 

Mikel Arteta, meanwhile, returns to a long winter of battling on the domestic front with the haven of Europe now out of view until the spring. 

Dundalk: Gary Rogers; Sean Gannon (John Mountney, 53′); Sean Hoare, Andy Boyle (Brian Gartland, HT), Daniel Cleary; Darragh Leahy; Chris Shields (captain), Jordan Flores; Patrick McEleney (Stefan Colovic, 76′), Michael Duffy (Jamie Wynne, 76′); David McMillan (Daniel Kelly, 53′)

Arsenal: Runar Runarsson; Cedric Soares; Calum Chambers, Pablo Mari, Shkodran Mustafi (captain); Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Mohamed Elneny (Dani Ceballos, 62′), Joe Willock (Miguel Azeez, 82′); Nicolas Pepe, Eddie Nketiah (Folarin Balogun, 62′), Emile Smith Rowe (Ben Cottrell, 76′)

Referee: Ivan Bebek (Croatia)

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