Arsenal seal Europa League top spot after Kieran Tierney strike sinks Zürich at the Emirates

Bukayo Saka makes second-half appearance to give England a boost ahead of the World Cup

Arsenal 1 FC Zürich 0

Three matches left before Arsenal sign off for the World Cup. Their European objective of reaching the last 16 of the Europa League without extending their schedule was achieved here, though not especially stylishly. A Sunday derby at Chelsea and keeping noses in front of Manchester City had clearly taken priority.

Though at this point in this concertinaed season, with games every three days, squads permanently reshuffled, results are all that matter. Zürich had not come to lie down and gave Arsenal some late scares and bruises, too, but Kieran Tierney’s first-half goal ended up being enough to finish for his team to finish up group winners.

Arsenal may already have qualified but last week’s defeat at PSV left them needing to guarantee their status as group winners. Victory would mean avoiding an extra two legs facing a Champions League dropout that Manchester United must fulfil. Ducking Juventus, Barcelona, Ajax, Sevilla and extra fatigue in February was significant motivation. Mikel Arteta had picked Gabriel Jesus, despite Sunday’s high noon appointment at Stamford Bridge, risked to lead the line as captain for the evening.


Bukayo Saka’s presence on the bench was relief in this precarious, pre-World Cup netherworld when a knock cancels a plane ticket to Qatar. Reiss Nelson had replaced Saka on Sunday and scored twice against Nottingham Forest, and was appearing in successive Arsenal matches for the first time since December 2020.

Neon-shirted Zürich, managed by lank-haired Kidderminster Harriers alumni Bo Henriksen, their fans filling the Emirates with noise and smoke, were in a win or bust situation. And not even a win guaranteed them a parachute to the Europa Conference League.

With Granit Xhaka’s suspension preventing him from facing his compatriots, Mohamed Elneny partnered Sambi Lokonga in midfield with Fabio Vieira providing the creativity. The Portuguese youngster played his part in Tierney’s goal, his shot blocked after Ben White’s ball from the byline. Tierney steered the rebound expertly, with venom, beyond Zürich goalkeeper Yanick Brecher, a first shot on goal after what had been a slow start.

Jesus was as lively as ever, relentless in chasing down a loose ball after Eddie Nketiah had forced a save from Brecher, though also over-eager when getting in the way of a goalbound Vieira shot.

Zürich remained determined, Vieira on the end of a yellow-carded foul from Fidan Aliti and Jonathan Okita forcing a save from Aaron Ramsdale with a long-range shot. Another Arsenal goal still looked far likelier and Nketiah’s header forced an acrobatic stop from Brecher. Next, Vieira might have done better when Tierney’s cutback but could only hit the first defender.

Jesus, mindful he was unlikely to play the full 90, tried to get the job completed straight from the second-half whistle, crashing wide, though from an offside position, then forcing a desperate challenge from Nikola Katic for a booking. Zürich clearly saw the rough stuff as their way back in. Cheick Condé had a nibble at Jesus’s ankle before Zoran Boranijasevic tore the chest of Tierney’s shirt asunder with a cynical grab as the full back sped past him.

Zürich’s aggression did take wind from Arsenal’s sails, and Arteta sent Saka and Thomas Partey on, Jesus and Elneny departing, Saka’s arrival receiving a huge cheer from the home fans. There was yet louder noise from the away contingent when they believed Adrian Guerrero had equalised, only for him to be called offside from Ramsdale’s save of Antonio Marchesano’s shot.

Takehrio Tomiyasu and Martin Ødegaard came on for Vieira and White, and with PSV leading Bodo/Glimt in the other group game, a Zurich equaliser would have dropped Arsenal into second place. When Bohdan Vyunnyk, the Ukrainian, came on for Zurich and flashed a shot wide with Ramsdale launching himself at full stretch there were collywobbles, shared by Gunners fans and an increasingly agitated Arteta.

Tomiyasu, with what looked a muscle injury, limped off, his participation in Japan’s World Cup squad in doubt, another potential victim of this season’s unforgiving schedule. – Guardian