Cologne 1 Arsenal 0: Gunners win Europa League Group H despite defeat

James Benge
AFP/Getty Images

Arsenal topped their Europa League group despite slipping to their first defeat of the competition in Cologne.

Sehrou Guirassy’s penalty, generously awarded by referee Vladislav Bezborodov, secured a 1-0 victory for the struggling Bundesliga side - but ultimately a 0-0 draw between BATE Borisov and Red Star Belgrade means no Group H rival can catch the Gunners in the final round of fixtures.

Arsene Wenger’s side needed only a point to be assured of topping the group, and it showed. Though Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck and Olivier Giroud looked a formidable frontline on paper, the supply line offered little while Calum Chambers struggled in an unfamiliar role as right wing-back.

It rather typified Arsenal’s lacklustre first-half attack that their best chances fell to Francis Coquelin, who, after 155 appearances for the Gunners, had never scored a goal for them.

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A 14th-minute drive from outside the box briefly looked like changing that but it flashed just wide of Timo Horn’s post. The French midfielder got closer next time round, volleying against the stanchion after Giroud had flicked the ball infield.

Cologne needed a win to have any hope of making it out of the group, and showed plenty of willing with all the incision expected of the Bundesliga’s worst side.

Alex Iwobi’s introduction at the interval only briefly sparked Arsenal’s attack, which all too often dissolved into attempts to play one-twos of Giroud as he was surrounded by defenders.

The hosts were offering little to threaten Arsenal until the 62nd minute, when Guirassy went down a tad easily under the close attention of Mathieu Debuchy. As David Ospina dived to his right, the French striker slotted his penalty down the middle.

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Arsenal immediately upped their soporific tempo, with Per Mertesacker’s looping header from a corner bringing a strong save from Timo Horn.

As has so often been the case in the Europa League, the Gunners' best chance of a goal looked to be Wilshere, who delivered a brilliant ball over the top only to see Giroud get his feet in a tangle when he should have slotted home.

Wenger threw on youngsters Reiss Nelson and Eddie Nketiah, but did not need to chase the game in the end as events in Belarus made the result at the RheinEnergieStadion largely academic for Arsenal, who will be seeded for next month’s knockout stage draw.