Match ends, BATE Borisov 2, Arsenal 4.
Theo Walcott scored twice as a much-changed Arsenal beat Bate Borisov in the Europa League to make it two wins from two in Group H.
Jack Wilshere was excellent and set up a Walcott chance which hit the post before assisting the forward’s close-range opener.
Bate keeper Denis Scherbitski then inexplicably passed the ball straight to Walcott to slot home a second.
Rob Holding scored his first Arsenal goal, turning home Per Mertesacker’s flick-on from Walcott’s corner to seemingly put the game past Bate after 25 minutes.
But Mirko Ivanic pulled one back for the Belarusians after one of their few real attacks in the first half with an excellent 10-yard header from Aleksey Rios’ cross.
Arsenal restored their three-goal advantage after the break as Olivier Giroud scored his 100th Arsenal goal from the spot after a soft penalty award against Vitali Gayduchik, who did not appear to make much contact with Shkodran Mustafi.
Bate did pull another back when Mikhail Gordeychuk slammed home from close range after David Ospina parried Ivanic’s header.
And Arsenal – who had looked comfortable up to that point – were hanging on at times in the end. Aleksandr Volodko could have set up an anxious finale but he fired a shot wide from inside the box.
The Gunners are top of Group H on six points with Red Star Belgrade second on four points after they beat Cologne, who have lost both matches, 1-0 thanks to Richmond Boakye’s goal.
Gunners’ fringe players impress
Arsenal’s first Europa League campaign since it was called the Uefa Cup in 1999-2000 will give some of their fringe players more opportunities to play this season. And, by and large, they took their chance in Belarus. For 65 minutes anyway.
Boss Arsene Wenger made nine changes to the side who beat West Brom 2-0 on Monday, leaving several of his first-team players back in England – with an entirely youthful bench.
Youngsters Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson at wing-back, and Joseph Willock in central midfield, all had solid performances – albeit against weak opposition. Nelson, 17 – who has already made four appearances this season – was particularly impressive. Teenagers Marcus McGuane and Edward Nketiah came on for their debuts in the final 10 minutes.
Walcott – who has not started a Premier League game this season – could have scored three or four goals. His first major opportunity came when Wilshere slipped him through and he hit the post from 10 yards out.
He then opened the scoring, bundling home at the second attempt after Scherbitski had saved his initial header from Wilshere’s cross.
His second goal was a gift from the keeper, but Scherbitski denied him a hat-trick with a good fingertip save.
Defender Holding scored his first Gunners goal from close range and then hit the post from a similar opportunity a few minutes later.
Either side of Bate’s goals, Giroud joined Walcott in the list of 19 players to hit 100 goals for the Gunners – from a controversial penalty award which seemed to catch everyone by surprise.
But Wenger will surely be slightly concerned by the fact Bate – who are third in the Belarusian league – managed to give them a few frights in the final 25 minutes after the Gunners had looked as if they would cruise to victory.
Win caps off good September for Arsenal
The Gunners did not end August in a good place. A 4-0 defeat at Liverpool left them with three points from their opening three league games – and Wenger under pressure.
But they have won five of their six games in September, drawing the other 0-0 with Premier League champions Chelsea.
They are the first team to beat Bate away from home in European competition since Barcelona in the Champions League group stages in 2015 – a run of seven games.
Man of the match – Jack Wilshere
Match stats – prolific Arsenal in Europe
- Wenger has now won against 116 of the 122 sides he has faced as Arsenal manager.
- Arsenal have won eight of their past 10 European group stage games (D2), racking up 31 goals at an average of 3.1 goals per game.
- The Gunners have scored three or more goals in seven of those 10 games, including the past three.
- At an average age of 25 years and 34 days, Wenger’s starting XI was his youngest in European competition since December 2014 against Galatasaray.
- Bate are the 50th different club Walcott has scored against for Arsenal.
- Giroud reached 100 goals for Arsenal one game quicker than Robin van Persie.
- Wilshere has completed 90 minutes in his past two games for Arsenal, having not done so for the club since September 2014.
Manager quotes – ‘the last 20 minutes were a bit more difficult’
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “We had a team that was a mixture of experienced players and young players and we had good cohesion and played football like I want them to play, with a good pace.
“We maintained it for 65 minutes and then the last 20 minutes were a bit more difficult. Overall, I’m very pleased with our performance.
“Bate is a good team, has good cohesion, good technical level, works well together, and we needed a good performance to beat them.”
Arsenal host Brighton in the Premier League on Sunday (12:00 BST) after making the near-1500-mile trip home from Belarus. Bate host title rivals Dinamo Minsk two hours later.
The Gunners visit Red Star Belgrade, with Bate hosting Cologne in the next round of Europa League games on 19 October (both 18:00 GMT).
Second Half ends, BATE Borisov 2, Arsenal 4.
Corner, BATE Borisov. Conceded by Theo Walcott.
Offside, Arsenal. Olivier Giroud tries a through ball, but Eddie Nketiah is caught offside.
Attempt missed. Aleksey Rios (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Mikhail Gordeychuk.
Substitution, Arsenal. Eddie Nketiah replaces Joe Willock.
Mirko Ivanic (BATE Borisov) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Mirko Ivanic (BATE Borisov).
Attempt blocked. Mirko Ivanic (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Igor Stasevich.
Corner, BATE Borisov. Conceded by Shkodran Mustafi.
Attempt blocked. Joe Willock (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked.
Substitution, BATE Borisov. Dmitri Baga replaces Aleksandr Volodko.
Attempt missed. Theo Walcott (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Marcus McGuane.
Attempt missed. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) left footed shot from outside the box is just a bit too high. Assisted by Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Substitution, Arsenal. Marcus McGuane replaces Reiss Nelson.
Attempt missed. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) left footed shot from the left side of the box misses to the left. Assisted by Reiss Nelson.
Attempt blocked. Igor Stasevich (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mirko Ivanic.
Hand ball by Olivier Giroud (Arsenal).
Attempt saved. Igor Stasevich (BATE Borisov) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Stanislav Dragun.
Foul by Reiss Nelson (Arsenal).
Mirko Ivanic (BATE Borisov) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Vitali Gayduchik.
Attempt missed. Aleksandr Volodko (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from the centre of the box is close, but misses the top right corner. Assisted by Mikhail Gordeychuk.
Goal! BATE Borisov 2, Arsenal 4. Mikhail Gordeychuk (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from very close range to the top left corner.
Attempt saved. Mirko Ivanic (BATE Borisov) header from the centre of the box is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Maksim Volodko.
Nemanja Milunovic (BATE Borisov) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Theo Walcott (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Foul by Nemanja Milunovic (BATE Borisov).
Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Nemanja Milunovic (BATE Borisov).
Attempt missed. Aleksey Rios (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the left.
Attempt blocked. Mikhail Gordeychuk (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Mirko Ivanic.
Attempt missed. Nikolai Signevich (BATE Borisov) header from the centre of the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Aleksey Rios with a cross.
Attempt saved. Nikolai Signevich (BATE Borisov) header from the left side of the six yard box is saved in the top centre of the goal.
Attempt missed. Stanislav Dragun (BATE Borisov) right footed shot from outside the box is too high. Assisted by Igor Stasevich.
Foul by Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal).
Aleksandr Volodko (BATE Borisov) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Nikolai Signevich (BATE Borisov) header from very close range is saved in the centre of the goal. Assisted by Igor Stasevich with a cross.
Hand ball by Ainsley Maitland-Niles (Arsenal).