Much-changed Arsenal secure Europa League group top spot with victory over Vorskla Poltava

Aaron Ramsey scored a penalty for Arsenal.
Aaron Ramsey scored a penalty for Arsenal.

Arsenal secured top-spot in their Europa League group as a much-changed side coasted to Europa League victory against Vorskla Poltava, whose manager then hit out at the decision to move the game to Kiev.

The Group E fixture was moved 185 miles east of Poltava to the capital’s Olympic Stadium with parts of Ukraine under martial law as political tensions with Russia continue to rise.

The call to relocate the game was made on Tuesday evening, with Vorskla particularly unhappy with UEFA’s decision and official confirmation that the match would take place at all not coming from the governing body until six hours before kick-off.

The inconvenience - as well as a technical issue with their plane and the team bus breaking down just outside the stadium - did little to knock Arsenal off their stride as youngsters Emile Smith Rowe and Joe Willock scored either side of an Aaron Ramsey penalty to seal a 3-0 win in temperatures which dipped to minus 10 degrees.

Vorskla, meanwhile, made some suggestion the game would still not take place - although an Instagram post from their account on Wednesday evening showed the squad boarding a coach bound for Kiev.

They started the game brightly, but were never likely to get back into it once Smith Rowe scored with only 11 minutes on the clock, with their coach Vasyl Sachko afterwards venting his frustration at the change of venue.

“I would like to say a lot about this,” he said.

“A holiday was taken away from Poltava. This game was very important for our city. One of the most important games for 10 years.

“We were preparing very much and it was expected to be like a holiday. We spent a lot of our energy and we did everything we could to prepare the match.

“It influenced the mental condition of the players very much because only in 24 hours everything had changed.

“That was a big influence on the mentality on the team. The city lost a lot. A thousand supporters were going to come from other cities to support our team.”

Arsenal have now sewn up first place in the group with a game to spare and, with more than an eye on Sunday’s Premier League north London derby at home to Tottenham, Unai Emery made 10 changes.

Striker Eddie Nketiah was handed his first senior start as Zech Medley, Bukayo Sako and Charlie Gilmour all came off the bench for their debuts - with Arsenal finishing the game with six teenagers on the pitch.