Bukayo Saka’s fortunate goal maintained Arsenal’s 100 per cent Europa League group stage record with a 1-0 win at Bodo/Glimt, but the out-of-sorts Gunners were lucky to escape with victory in northern Norway.
Playing on an artificial surface in the cold environment of a fishing city just north of the Arctic Circle, Mikel Arteta’s side largely struggled to fashion
chances – but Saka headed the Gunners in front – without knowing too much about it – in their only effort on target of the match.
Bodo could and should have equalised in both halves, with Amahl Pellegrino and Runar Espejord guilty of spurning multiple opportunities in front of a sell-out crowd for the minnows, but let Arteta’s Gunners off the hook.
The result means Arsenal stay top of their group on nine points and know victory at home to PSV Eindhoven next week will seal a top-two place, even if the coveted group winners’ spot and an automatic route into the last 16 would not yet be assured.
How Arsenal edged past Bodo
Another rotated Arsenal side came out to a raucous home crowd in an eight-degree chill, a temperature twice as cold as London, and the visitors struggled on the artificial surface.
The only real effort on goal before their opener came through Albert Sambi Lokonga, who fired wide of goal from the edge of the area.
Arsenal’s opener eventually did come as Lokonga fed Saka in the right channel of the box – and while his first effort was blocked by a defender, the rebound bounced off his forehead and deceived the Bodo goalkeeper by dropping into the net.
Saka should have doubled the advantage when Martin Odegaard, playing in his native Norway for the first time since he was 15-years-old, fed the England winger in the box but he rushed his shot which flew past the near post.
Bodo provided a reminder of their threat before the break as Ola Solbakken flicked on a long ball and played Pellegrino clean through on goal.
The top scorer in Norway’s top flight left home fans aghast as he got his bearings all wrong to put the simple chance high and wide – the striker spurning an opportunity to give the stubborn Norwegian side a deserved route back into the game.
Bodo kept the pressure on Arsenal throughout the second half, with the Gunners failing to register a significant chance on goal after half-time.
Pellegrino was played through once again down the left after Lokonga’s poor pass in midfield and, while the Bodo forward got his shot on target, Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner parried his effort easily.
Solbakken then curled just over Turner’s bar after taking on Kieran Tierney down the Arsenal left – but the best chance of the half fell to Espejord.
The Bodo left winger caught onto Hugo Vetlesen’s lay-off inside the box but could only fire over. His manager Kjetil Knutsen fell to his knees in despair, such was the significance of the chance.
Arteta was forced to bring on the likes of Granit Xhaka, Gabriel Martinelli and Thomas Partey to gain more control against a rampant Bodo side, and while the result was achieved, it was done with some struggle.
Arsenal need to improve for tougher away battles
Analysis from Sky Sports football journalist Sam Blitz:
Three points, a spot in the Europa League knockout stages drawing closer, no injuries and 11 wins from 12 this season, Mikel Arteta has reason to be content after this latest win.
The conditions were not great with Bodo/Glimt’s artificial pitch and considering Arsenal travelled 2,000 miles for this trip, Arteta will be relieved they have come away from this game unscathed and confident.
But the Gunners manager will, as he has done after every game this season, say his side still can be better. While many have felt this is just a poker-faced tactic from a delighted manager, this time Arteta may genuinely feel some dissatisfaction.
Arsenal were second best in Norway as Bodo/Glimt’s stubborn play and raucous support affected the Gunners. Simple passes were misplaced, opportunities were handed on a plate – but they weren’t taken advantage of.
The Norwegian minnows made this game feel like a classic ‘David vs Goliath’ cup tie and Arsenal nearly failed the test. Four out of Arsenal’s next six matches are away from home and better quality opposition, in particular strikers, will make the Gunners pay.
It is not the first time that Arsenal have been under pressure and come out on top, and the flip side argument is that this Gunners team is developing a back-bone in difficult moments and the ‘sign of champions when not playing well’ cliché will likely emerge from its fanbase.
Arteta, however, won’t see it that way. The cold, weeknight Norwegian air will eventually blow over to the UK in the coming months. Arsenal need to be ready.
England squad watch: Saka and White develop understanding
When you are at the top of your game, luck falls on your side and Bukayo Saka is hitting the right notes, form and fortune at the right time.
The lucky glance off his forehead resulting in the ball falling into the net means Saka now has four goals and four assists in his last seven starts for Arsenal.
Now the question is whether this record and form is enough for Gareth Southgate to start Saka over Phil Foden, also very much in the goals recently, against Iran on November 21.
What might help Saka’s cause is the emergence of Ben White as a reliable option at right-back. In the early exchanges of this match, White and Saka combined excellently down the right and an understanding is growing between the two – one that Southgate could benefit from this winter.
Both players were taken off in the second half, not for any dwindling influence in the game, but to keep them fresh for another big contest – a trip to Elland Road to face Leeds on Sunday.
The way the two England internationals are playing – do not be surprised if they are heavily involved in the action there as well.
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