Saka pays lip service to guide fortunate Arsenal to win over Bodø/Glimt | Europa League

Arsenal skated on thin ice but survived their expedition to Norway’s far north. They did not exactly produce a spectacle in the land of aurora borealis and, in truth, Bodø/Glimt should have made them pay for a passive second half. Their creative radar was off for the majority of a chilly night but Bukayo Saka’s fortunate first-half goal proved sufficient to end one of the most eyecatching records on the continent. A slick, smart home side had won their last 14 European games here and it was no small achievement for the run to finally be punctured.

The hosts burnished their reputation as one of the most progressive clubs, pound for pound, in this competition and it was easy to see why the likes of Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb and, on two occasions, Roma have been humbled here in the last year. Had Runar Espejord, their centre-forward, not skied a glorious chance from eight yards just before the hour they would have scented a further scalp. That was not their only opportunity during a wave of intense attacking and their loud, passionate but melodious support were justified in cheering them off at full-time.

They had rarely let up all evening. Bodø had seen few occasions like this and 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 inside 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 MC led them through a range of club anthems before kick-off; the atmosphere, in a setting that offered a refreshing antidote to the uniformity among many of football’s modern citadels, was fiercely partisan yet not hostile.

Mikel Arteta was simply pleased his players negotiated it, as well as the artificial surface that had irked José Mourinho after Roma’s second humbling. “Not many teams do that,” he said of Bodø/Glimt’s winning streak. “We have come here as number 15 and won it. We talked about it in the last few days and that was the challenge in different conditions, in different context, making a lot of changes: find a way to win. We’ve done it.”

Bukayo Saka celebrates with Martin Ødegaard after scoring for Arsenal
Saka celebrates with Martin Ødegaard after scoring for Arsenal. Photograph: NTB/Reuters

A win in their rescheduled tie with PSV Eindhoven next Thursday would guarantee Arsenal one of the top two spots in Group A. The strike that maintained their 100% record was a strange one: odd enough that it took a second or two for the pocket of away fans, huddled in the opposite end, to realise they had reason to celebrate. 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 into him and dropped into the net. Cue an eerie silence and, finally, acknowledgement from 120 yards away. “I think it came off my lips, it’s a nice one,” Saka said.

Arsenal offered little else in attack beyond a half-chance, immediately after scoring, that Saka sliced off target. Arteta had acknowledged the danger in this fixture by retaining four starters from the win over Liverpool; they controlled long periods of the first half but Martin Ødegaard, who last played here as a 15-year-old for Strømsgodset in 2014, was quiet while William Saliba and Ben White were stretched after the break.

“Football is not always fair,” said the Bodø/Glimt manager Knutsen. “We were a little unlucky with the goal we conceded but that’s life. I’m really proud with how we raised the bar from the match at the Emirates.”

Back then they lost 3-0 but that never looked likely here. Amahl Pellegrino and Ola Solbakken both came close shortly before Espejord’s miss and the impressive schemer Hugo Vetlesen could not quite tame a through ball that would have sent him clear. The slickness of the pitch in driving rain did not help him but it was the same for both teams.

“You could see it was too fast for us but there are no excuses,” Arteta said. He was pleased with how Matt Turner, whose lengthy deliberation over goal kicks in added time spoke of Arsenal’s discomfort, swept up the balls Bodø/Glimt fizzed in behind and described the American’s showing as “phenomenal”.

That was over-egging things, but his relief at avoiding a banana skin in this sea of yellow was justified.

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