Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang spares Bernd Leno’s blushes with Arsenal winner
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came off the bench to spare the blushes of goalkeeper Bernd Leno as Arsenal scored twice in four minutes to earn a Europa League victory over Rapid Vienna.
Mikel Arteta named a strong side at the Allianz Stadion, where 3,000 home fans watched on, with Thomas Partey making his full debut in the Group B opener.
But, after a mistake by Leno gifted a goal to Taxiarchis Fountas, the Gunners had to rally from behind with David Luiz and Aubameyang on target as Arsenal left Austria with a 2-1 win.
Having spoken on the eve of the game about the reasons behind axing Mesut Ozil from his Europa League and Premier League squads, Arteta must have been worried by the lack of creativity in the opening hour.
Ozil was tweeting along to the match from home and offered his best wishes to Leno – whose position as Arsenal’s number one split the fanbase when Emiliano Martinez was sold to Aston Villa in the summer.
Following an even start, a Luiz header forced the first save out of Richard Strebinger as the Brazil defender met a Cedric Soares free-kick at the back post.
Leno was also in action for the first time soon after, doing well to scoop Fountas’ deflected flick into his grasp.
There was little forward momentum for the visitors, their play often broken up by referee Pavel Kralovec, who awarded a number of contentious fouls
Ercan Kara flashed a shot wide as Rapid ended a tepid first half on top and they were ahead just six minutes after the restart, albeit courtesy of a gift from Leno.
In trying to play out from the back, Leno received the ball from Luiz but made an error as his pass was intercepted by Kara.
He picked out his strike partner Fountas as the Greece international finished well to break the deadlock.
Leno’s confidence appeared shaken by his mistake and he again presented the ball straight to Fountas, but this time he just about managed to keep out the Rapid forward’s effort from outside the box.
Arteta had seen enough and made a double change on the hour, introducing Hector Bellerin and captain Aubameyang from the bench.
But it was a much less familiar man who would get Arsenal back on level terms as Luiz rose to flick home Nicolas Pepe’s free-kick with Strebinger nowhere to be seen after venturing off his line.
Leno was clearly struggling following his earlier error and almost presented the hosts with the lead immediately after the equaliser.
The Germany international charged off his line and his attempted clearance thundered off Luiz, with Fountas unable to keep down the resulting shot.
It would be Arsenal who were toasting the lead from their next attack, Aubameyang left with a simple finish after Mohamed Elneny’s fine pass allowed Bellerin to square to his captain.
Arsenal saw out the remainder of the game with little threat to complete a professional job and start their European campaign with three points.