Europa League hits and misses: Gareth Bale yet to fire for Tottenham, Arsenal labour to win

Leicester produce a professional display to beat AEK Athens on the road, while Alfredo Morelos reminds Rangers manager Steven Gerrard of his value and Celtic - despite throwing away a two-goal lead - still show signs of improvement at Lille after a tough week

Arsenal's lack of cutting edge evident despite victory

Arsenal's English striker Eddie Nketiah celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League 1st round day 2 Group B football match between Arsenal and Dundalk at the Emirates Stadium in London on October 29, 2020. (Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP) (Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images)
Image: It took a goalkeeping howler for Arsenal to score their opener against Dundalk through Eddie Nketiah

In some ways, it's difficult to argue against a 3-0 win on any day of the week, but for an Arsenal side struggling for goals, a manager lamenting his forwards' finishing, and a Europa League victory with only six shots on target against a determined but very limited Dundalk side, there's plenty to pick apart.

Arsenal took 34 minutes to test veteran visiting goalkeeper Gary Rogers and owed their opening goal to his horrible fumble from a corner. It took a stunning strike from Nicolas Pepe and a fine finish while Dundalk were still composing themselves after shipping the opener to put the gloss on their performance.

Outside of that four-minute spell either side of half-time, the 39-year-old would have been most worried about catching a chill, because Arsenal gave him precious little work to do as their fringe players offered the same predictable attacking style Arteta's first choices have served up in recent weeks.

Too much of Arsenal's play came down the wings, with crosses Dundalk were happy to head away all night long and inside runs from the right from Pepe they could see coming a mile off.

Following back-to-back Premier League defeats, any win is welcome, but if Arteta was serious when telling BT Sport his side made victory "look easy", it doesn't bear thinking about how he would visualise their win being difficult.
Ron Walker

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Arsenal fixtures

Sun Nov 1: Man Utd (a)

Thurs Nov 5: Molde (h)

Sat Nov 7: Aston Villa (h), TBC

Thurs Nov 26: Molde (a)

Sat Nov 28: Wolves (h) TBC

Thurs Dec 3: Rapid Vienna (h)

Sat Dec 5: Tottenham (a) TBC

Thurs Dec 10: Dundalk (a)

Sat Dec 12: Burnley (h) TBC

Waiting for the Bale explosion...

ANTWERPEN, BELGIUM - OCTOBER 29: Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Martin Hongla of Royal Antwerp during the UEFA Europa League Group J stage match between Royal Antwerp and Tottenham Hotspur at Bosuilstadion on October 29, 2020 in Antwerpen, Belgium.
Image: Gareth Bale in action against Royal Antwerp

Much of the post-match analysis from Jose Mourinho centred around how disappointed he was in the performance of those with a point to prove. Although he didn't mention names, it was obvious he was taking aim at the four he substituted at half-time in Antwerp - Dele Alli, Vinicius, Giovani Lo Celso, and Steven Bergwijn.

But what about Gareth Bale? He hardly enhanced his claims of a Premier League starting berth.

All eyes were on Bale with Mourinho declaring in the build-up he was going to let him "fly" in the Group J encounter between the top two. Well, if this was Bale flying, then maybe Spurs have signed an imposter.

The Welshman and his teammates saw plenty of the ball at times in the first half, but it all came in deep, unthreatening areas with Bale taking the safe option with his passing and hardly driving forward with the ball at his feet. It was Bale, half-baked.

He was eventually replaced by Harry Kane on 58 minutes. It's been a subdued start to life back in England so far and judging by Mourinho's comments, Bale has work to do to break into his starting XI.
Lewis Jones

Tottenham fixtures

Sun Nov 1: Brighton (h)

Thurs Nov 5: Ludogorets (a)

Sat Nov 7: West Brom (a)

Sat Nov 21: Man City (h)

Thurs Nov 26: Ludogorets (h)

Sat Nov 28: Chelsea (a)

Thurs Dec 3: LASK (a)

Sat Dec 5: Arsenal (h)

Thurs Dec 10: Antwerp (h)

Sat Dec 12: Crystal Palace (a)

Leicester taking Europa seriously

Leicester City players celebrate a goal against AEK Athens
Image: Leicester players celebrate Jamie Vardy's opening goal against AEK Athens

And so they should.

Brendan Rodgers named a strong XI for the trip to AEK Athens - possibly helped by the fact their next Premier League game is on Monday evening at Leeds - as the likes of Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Youri Tielemans started.

It's abundantly clear Rodgers is prioritising progress in this competition, and with a Champions League place for the winners in a packed season where their nearest European rivals may choose to prioritise domestic ventures, it makes complete sense.

They were professional throughout, and when AEK showed signs of causing trouble early in the second half, Leicester simply managed the game, kept it tight and resisted the urge to attack. Kasper Schmeichel's goal kicks were a long drawn-out affair.

But one future problem in this competition may be their lack of depth, in defence at least. On Thursday, they introduced 19-year-old Luke Thomas at half-time, and though he put in a decent display and looked at home on the European stage, it's evidence of their lack of numbers. New injuries to Jonny Evans and Timothy Castagne won't help.

They'll be looking to get progression from this group wrapped up before the fifth matchday, and with games against struggling Fulham (H), Sheffield United (A) and Brighton (H) wedged in-between Europa League games later in November and December, Rodgers may be planning to rest some stars.
Gerard Brand

Leicester fixtures

Mon Nov 2: Leeds (a)

Thurs Nov 5: Sporting Braga (h)

Sat Nov 7: Wolves (h), TBC

Thurs Nov 26: Sporting Braga (a)

Sat Nov 28: Fulham (h) TBC

Thurs Dec 3: Zorya Luhansk (a)

Sat Dec 5: Sheff Utd (a) TBC

Thurs Dec 10: AEK Athens (a)

Sun Dec 13: Brighton (h) TBC

Morelos still Rangers' main man

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 29: Alfredo Morelos of Rangers celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group D stage match between Rangers and Lech Poznan at Ibrox Stadium on October 29, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Image: Alfredo Morelos came off the bench to win the game for Rangers against Lech Poznan

Alfredo Morelos may have once again started Rangers' Europa League clash with Lech Poznan on the bench, however, you get the feeling the striker may now be back in manager Steven Gerrard's good books after his match-winning contribution at Ibrox on Thursday night.

With the game drifting and the home side struggling to break down their stubborn opponents, Gerrard decided to throw the Colombian on just past the hour-mark.

And it took the substitute just five minutes to make an impact, stooping to head home Borna Barisic's inviting cross as he became Rangers' joint-leading scorer in Europe with 21 goals, the same as the great Ally McCoist.
Richard Morgan

Rangers fixtures

Sun Nov 1: Kilmarnock (a)


Thurs Nov 5: Benfica (a)

Sun Nov 8: Hamilton (h)

Sat Nov 21: Aberdeen (h)

Thurs Nov 26: Benfica (h)

Thurs Dec 3: Standard Liege (h)

Sun Dec 6: Ross County (a)

Thurs Dec 10: Lech Poznan (a)

Signs of improvement from Celtic

Celtic players celebrate scoring against Lille
Image: Celtic players celebrate scoring against Lille

Celtic are up and running in the Europa League after an excellent draw in Lille, but it could have been so much more for Neil Lennon and his side.

After a run of poor results, not many gave the Scottish champions a chance against Lille, who are the only unbeaten side in Ligue 1 and second behind French giants PSG in the table.

But Celtic put their poor form behind them, producing a near-perfect first-half performance as Mohamed Elyounoussi's double and Scott Bain's penalty save gave the visitors the advantage.

Celtic have lost just one of their last 11 away matches in all European competition (W6 D4), going unbeaten in the last four such games.

There was always going to be a fightback from the hosts, it was just a case of how Celtic would deal with it. Losing Kristoffer Ajer did not help matters as Zeki Celik and Jonathan Ikone brought the hosts level with 15 minutes left to play.

There looked to be only one winner with the momentum firmly with Lille, but Celtic dug in to get their Europa League campaign up and running and give themselves something to build on going forward.

It may still be four games in all competitions without a win and there's plenty of room for improvement, but the performance and spirit shown in Lille, plus the returns of Odsonne Edouard and Nir Bitton after issues with Covid-19, show better things could be just around the corner for Celtic.
Oli Yew

Celtic fixtures

Thurs Nov 5: Sparta Prague (h)

Sun Nov 8: Motherwell (a)

Sun Nov 21: Hibernian (a)

Thurs Nov 26: Sparta Prague (a)

Thurs Dec 3: AC Milan (a)

Sun Dec 6: St Johnstone (h)

Thurs Dec 10: Sparta Prague (a)

Sun Dec 13: Kilmarnock (h)

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