Bukayo Saka chests fortunate Arsenal to victory on raucous evening in Bodø

Aspmyra Stadion’s reputation as a giants’ graveyard was evident as hosts dominated second half

Bodø/Glimt 0 Arsenal 1

Arsenal survived their trip to Norway’s far north, but only after skating on thin ice. They would have been limited to a point had Bodø/Glimt crowned a dominant second-half display with the goal it merited, but instead they left one of the continent’s most formidable venues with all three.

Their creative radar was off for most of the night but Bukayo Saka’s first-half winner, the result of a fortunate ricochet, puts them well in control of Group A and dangles the prospect of early qualification if they beat PSV Eindhoven at the Emirates next week.

While their opponents’ hopes of a top-two place hang in the balance, they maintained their reputation as one of the region’s most progressive clubs in a setting that offered a refreshing alternative to Europe’s traditional footballing citadels.


Bodø had seen few occasions like this. It felt as if, quite apart from facing Kjetil Knutsen’s team, Arsenal were up against the civic pride of an entire community. Bodø/Glimt’s signature yellow and black are unmissable at every turn in this remote, attractive fishing town 50 miles north of the Arctic Circle; flags flew proudly outside houses in the suburbs while, inside the stadium, the number of fans not wearing at least a trace of their colours could have been counted on one hand. An emcee led them through a range of club anthems before kick-off and, in an atmosphere this distinct, it was not hard to see why the hosts had won their last 14 European games here.

Two of those victories had come against Roma in last season’s Conference League. José Mourinho had expressed distaste for the artificial surface after the second of them but Mikel Arteta did not see it as a reason to keep key players under wraps. Saka, William Saliba and Ben White all survived from the side that defeated Liverpool on Sunday; so did Martin Ødegaard, who last played here as a 15-year-old for Strømsgodset in 2014.

It took 24 minutes of a hitherto tight first half for Saka to dampen the optimism. The goal was a curious one, greeted by eerie silence for a second before Arsenal’s pocket of fans at the opposite end clocked that they had reason to cheer.

Saka played a smart one-two with Albert Sambi Lokonga but, near the right corner of the six-yard box, seemed to be crowded out as he shot. His effort was blocked by Marius Høibråten, who had slid to intervene, but smacked straight back off his chest and dropped into the net.

Saka had threatened within a minute of the start, clipping the ball past the goalkeeper Nikita Halkin from wide but beyond Eddie Nketiah. Bodø/Glimt, generally happy to allow Arsenal possession but fast and slick whenever they broke, quickly carved out a similar opportunity when Amahl Pellegrino’s centre took a nick and narrowly evaded the onrushing Ola Solbakken.

Shortly before the opener Matt Turner had been required to clear hurriedly ahead of Runar Espejord and at such moments this venue’s growing reputation as a giants’ graveyard was firmly evident.

Determined to make light of it, Arsenal sought a swift addition to Saka’s stroke of fortune. He sliced wide from an angle when reasonably placed to provide it but, to their credit, Bodø/Glimt refused to let the match run away. A watchable enough game, light on clear chances, proceeded to the interval with a handful of mild flutters in each box and the sense it could still turn.

Seven minutes after the restart Pellegrino glided away down the left but, perhaps seeking to finish too deliberately, saw Turner block his low shot. It was Bodø/Glimt’s best chance yet and of a piece with their brisk tempo upon re-emerging.

Shortly afterwards Solbakken, manoeuvring inside from the opposite flank, curled over by a whisker with Turner beaten and then, with rain teeming down now, came a golden opportunity to level. The striker Espejord was alone eight yards out after Hugo Vetlesen chested down intelligently but, leaning back, blazed over horribly.

Bodø/Glimt should have been level and, by now, would have deserved to be. An agitated Arteta immediately introduced Granit Xhaka and Gabriel Martinelli; the stands were pulsating and it had become the fiendish assignment trailed at the outset. The increasingly influential schemer Vetlesen could not quite take a through ball under his spell as the pressure continued, the slickness of the surface doing him no favours, and Arsenal had not forged a meaningful chance since half-time.

That remained the case and, by the end, Turner was courting local annoyance for dwelling on his goal kicks. Arsenal did just enough. – Guardian