4.55pmHello and welcome to Sports Mole‘s live coverage of the match in the Europa League between Qarabag FK and Arsenal. The Gunners began their campaign with a win, but Qarabag have proven in the past that they can earn surprise results in front of their own supporters. Let’s see who features in each starting lineup.
4.57pmARSENAL XI: Leno; Holding, Sokratis, Monreal; Lichtsteiner, Elneny, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Smith-Rowe, Welbeck, Iwobi
ARSENAL SUBSTITUTES: Martinez, Bellerin, Mustafi, Torreira, Xhaka, Ozil, Lacazette
5.00pmQARABAG XI: Vagner, Medvedev, Huseynov, Rzezniczak, Agolli, Michel, Qarayev, Madatov, Ozobic, Zoubir, Emeghara
QARABAG SUBSTITUTES: Halldorsson, Mammadov, Slavchev, Abdullayev, Delarge, Huseynov, Diniyev
5.02pmUnai Emery had been expected to make changes to his starting lineup and not only has he done that, the Spaniard has also gone for a change in formation with the Gunners playing with three at the back this evening. It looks like Rob Holding and Nacho Monreal will play either side of Sokratis Papastathopoulos.
5.04pmThat means that Stephan Lichtsteiner and Sead Kolasinac will be used as wing-backs with Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi taking their place in the middle of the park, handing a rest to the likes of Hector Bellerin and Granit Xhaka.
5.06pmAlex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck were both expected to start in attack but they are also joined by Emile Smith-Rowe, who makes just his second competitive start in an Arsenal shirt. It will be interesting to see how he fares in this kind of atmosphere.
5.08pmBernd Leno has taken his place between the sticks with Petr Cech facing a month out with a hamstring injury. The German has had to remain patient for his opportunity but he now has a chance to cement his spot in the team.
5.10pmEmery could have filled the substitutes’ bench with youngsters but he has instead gone for experience. It is a sign that the Gunners boss wants qualification for the knockout stages wrapped up as soon as possible.
5.12pmAs for Qarabag, manager Gurban Gurbanov has opted to hand a recall to Michel in midfield. The Spaniard is no stranger to facing English teams having previously spent a period with Birmingham City.
5.14pmQarabag’s main man is Innocent Emeghara. The Nigeria-born Switzerland international has spent his career in a number of different countries but after signing a two-year deal in the summer, the forward has hit the ground running with four goals from five appearances.
5.16pmThis is tonight’s venue. Expect it to be near-enough full to capacity come kickoff.
5.18pmArsenal head into this game sitting at the top of Group E on goal difference, despite FC Vorskla netting two late goals to reduce the scoreline to 4-2 at the Emirates Stadium. In the other game, Sporting Lisbon prevailed by a 2-0 scoreline against Qarabag in Portugal.
5.21pmThe absence of Henrikh Mkhitaryan has naturally hit the headlines this week with Emery being quizzed on the situation. Click here to see what the Spaniard has had to say.
5.22pmArsenal reached the semi-finals of this competition last season and given their strong start to this campaign, as many as 17 different players have netted for the Gunners in the Europa League since last September.
5.24pmLast season’s run also helped Arsenal extend their impressive recent record in the group stages of European competition. Eleven wins and three draws have come from 15 matches, with the only defeat coming away at FC Koln last year.
5.26pmNaturally, there was disappointment in losing away in Germany, but Arsenal were superb on their travels last season. Wins were recorded at BATE Borisov, Red Star Belgrade, Ostersund and AC Milan.
5.28pmArsene Wenger used this competition to blood a few of his younger players last season with Ainsley Maitland-Niles the main beneficiary from regular outings on the European scene. Smith-Rowe is the only one this evening but it is an inclusion which will excite Arsenal supporters. However, some fans may feel like it is a missed chance to give Eddie Nketiah more time in a first-team shirt.
5.30pmHolding will also be keen to make an impact in this tournament in order to earn more time in the Premier League. The Englishman is now 23 years of age and has made more appearances for Arsenal in cup competitions than the league.
5.32pmIt has been a long wait for his first start of the campaign but Kolasinac finally features under Emery this evening. Will his smile be as big at the full-time whistle?
5.34pmLet’s turn our attention to Qarabag, who are competing in Europe for the ninth time in 10 seasons. The only campaign that they missed was 2012-13.
5.36pmQarabag have only really started to make an impact since 2014, with four appearances in the group stages of the Europa League and one in the Champions League, where they got a stinker of a group alongside Roma, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid.
5.38pmHowever, the Azerbaijani side have frequently proven that they can pick up results against some of European football’s top teams. Since 2014, home draws have been recorded against Inter Milan, Monaco and Atletico, while they also held the Spanish giants in Madrid last season.
5.40pmThey had hoped to feature in the Champions league for a second successive year but a hugely disappointing defeat to BATE Borisov led to a third qualifying round exit. To put things in perspective, Arsenal scored 10 goals in two games against BATE last year.
5.42pmQarabag have enjoyed a strong start in the league, with five wins and a draw coming from their opening half-a-dozen fixtures. The one draw came against fellow unbeaten side Neftci.
5.44pmPREDICTION! Emery has naturally made changes for the long trip to Azerbaijan, but few players have not contributed in some form this season and we expect a professional showing from the Gunners this evening. Arsenal to win by a 3-1 scoreline.
5.46pmHEAD TO HEAD! Thursday’s encounter will represent the first time that these two clubs have met in a competitive match.
5.48pmArsenal are yet to face any opposition from Azerbaijan, but Qarabag are no strangers to taking on teams from the Premier League. Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea have prevailed 1-0 and 4-0 respectively at Qarabag since 2015, while the reverse fixtures have ended 3-1 and 6-0 to the two London sides.
5.50pmBefore we get going in Azerbaijan, a quick reminder that we will have full coverage of Chelsea’s meeting with Videoton at the end of this contest. The Blues will also be looking to register their second successive triumph.
5.52pmIt’s time for the two teams to make their way out onto the pitch in Baku. It’s a hostile atmosphere but with the pitch a little way away from the fans, you would think that it would not pose too many problems for the visitors.
5.54pmA reminder of the two starting lineups…
QARABAG XI: Vagner, Medvedev, Huseynov, Rzezniczak, Agolli, Michel, Qarayev, Madatov, Ozobic, Zoubir, Emeghara
ARSENAL XI: Leno; Holding, Sokratis, Monreal; Lichtsteiner, Elneny, Guendouzi, Kolasinac; Smith-Rowe, Welbeck, Iwobi
1 minKICKOFF: Qarabag get us underway!
2 minThe home side have already had a couple of flurries forward but Arsenal are dominating possession. Every touch of the ball is being jeered by Qarabag’s supporters.
3 minCHANCE! Almost an opener for Arsenal. Kolasinac battles his way past a defender before finding Welbeck in the middle, but the forward’s close-range effort hits Vagner before the rebound is deflected wide for a corner.
4 minGOAL! Qarabag FK 0-1 Arsenal (Sokratis Papastathopoulos)
4 minWhat a start for the Gunners. An outswinging corner finds the head of Monreal and although the Spaniard’s effort is going towards the corner, Sokratis is in the right place to divert the ball into the opposite corner for his first goal in an Arsenal shirt.
6 minThis is an extremely open game and that probably suits Arsenal. The Gunners look a threat every time they go on the attack and they will surely score more goals in this match.
8 minSokratis’s opener is yet to take the stuffing out of the home supporters but they at least acknowledge the task facing their team this evening. Qarabag are now looking to hold onto possession.
10 minThat leads to a couple of balls being sent into the area and from the second, Emeghara wants a penalty after claiming that his shirt was tugged by Holding. However, there is very little in it.
12 minArsenal haven’t offered much since the goal. They look content to invite pressure from Qarabag, but they cannot afford to allow the home side to build up a head of steam.
14 minThe Gunners really need to be careful here. Qarabag have warmed into this match and although they are lacking a final pass right now, they are being encouraged to attack the Premier League side.
16 minMore pressure from Qarabag leads to Zoubir whipping a low cross towards the back post, but Monreal is there to clear in front of a home player who was lurking.
18 minCHANCE! Smith-Rowe should score! Iwobi tees up Kolasinac to drill a low cross to the back post but sliding in, the teenager sends the ball into the side-netting from no more than three yards out.
20 minArsenal are beginning to show their quality again now. The ball is being sprayed about effortlessly and a corner is won after some progressive play from Welbeck.
21 minCHANCE! From the resulting corner, Elneny finds the run of Welbeck at the near post but the forward heads wide of the far post from about 12 yards out. Difficult chance.
23 minLATEST! In the other match in this group, FC Vorskla have taken the lead against Sporting Lisbon. That is a scoreline which will please Arsenal.
25 minArsenal win another corner which eventually leads to Elneny being given space to send in an inswinging cross. However, the midfielder opts to try to sneak the ball inside the near post, much to the frustration of his teammates.
27 minCHANCE! Out of nowhere, Madatov almost scores an outstanding goal for Qarabag. The winger nutmegged Kolasinac before cutting inside Monreal, but his shot towards the near corner was well saved by Leno.
29 minThat chance has at least kept Arsenal honest. They could run away with this if they score a second goal but while it remains just the one, Qarabag will keep persevering.
31 minWe are through the half-hour mark in Baku and this has really shaped into a good game. Both teams are having success in the final third and we will surely have more goals before the full-time whistle.
33 minYELLOW CARD! Medvedev goes into the book for a cynical tug on Iwobi. The Arsenal player reacts by pushing the offender and in all honesty, should be cautioned himself.
35 minThe goalmouth action has dried up over the past five to 10 minutes. It’s Arsenal who are contributing to that with their backline having dropped a little deeper.
37 minBetter from Arsenal who are at least trying to be more expansive, but they are still not getting closer to the Qarabag goal.
38 minCHANCE! Kolasinac has posed the biggest threat for Arsenal and once again, it is the left wing-back who gets a cross into the box and finds Smith-Rowe. It’s a difficult chance but the teenager sends a scissor kick wide of the target.
39 minCHANCE! Qarabag should be level. A low cross is only half-cleared to Ozobic who is waiting around 14 yards from goal. The Croatian’s half-volley is well-struck but Leno makes a smart save low down to his right.
41 minElneny very nearly gets dispossessed on the edge of his own area after a crazy ball from Leno. Arsenal need to work on their game management.
43 minYELLOW CARD! Holding goes into the book for deliberate handball on the halfway line. It’s so harsh with the defender having been looking to make a tackle.
45 minA floated pass goes over the head of Kolasinac and finds Medvedev but after cutting inside, a shot is dragged into the side-netting from 12 yards out.
45 minHALF TIME: Qarabag FK 0-1 Arsenal
6.44pmThe half-time whistle goes in Azerbaijan and Arsenal lead thanks to an early goal from Sokratis Papastathopoulos. The Gunners have had the better of the play – just – but Qarabag have shown that they are capable of getting back into this game. There is still all to play for after the break.
6.48pmArsenal’s goal was slightly fortunate but Sokratis could not have been placed better to divert Monreal’s header into the corner, wrong-footing goalkeeper Vagner in the process. The other best chances have gone to Smith-Rowe and Welbeck, but neither of the Englishmen were able to show a clinical touch.
6.52pmQarabag’s clearest chance went to Madatov, who got the better of Kolasinac and Monreal before seeing a low effort well saved by Leno. Ozobic also forced the German into a solid intervention with a half-volley from a central position.
46 minKICKOFF: We are back underway in Azerbaijan. Arsenal has made a change with Torreira being introduced for Monreal.
47 minSHOT! It’s a bright start to the second half from Qarabag, with Ozobic sending a shot wide of the post from 25 yards.
49 minArsenal have switched to a back four and so far, it is not doing them any favours. Madatov slots home from 12 yards out but the winger was correctly adjudged to be offside. It’s a close one.
51 minThe visitors are yet to mount any sort of an attack either. It’s a surprise change by Emery, but it may have something to do with a need to rest Monreal, who has played a lot of football recently.
53 minGOAL! Qarabag 0-2 Arsenal (Emile Smith-Rowe)
53 minArsenal double their advantage and it is the youngster who has got it. Iwobi broke from midfield before teeing up Smith-Rowe to this right and after taking a touch, the ball was slotted under Vagner and into the net. It’s a first senior goal for the 18-year-old.
55 minThis game is there for Arsenal to see out in a professional manner. Qarabag had been threatening an equaliser but it is a long way back from here.
57 minKolasinac has looked vulnerable in defensive areas but the returning left-sided player remains a threat in attack. He almost linked up with Elneny before the ball was over-hit by the Egyptian and out for a goal kick.
59 minZoubir does his best to create an opportunity for himself on the left flank, beating a couple of players and getting into the penalty area. However, the Frenchman is eventually crowded out.
61 minSUBSTITUTION! Qarabag make a change with Delarge replacing Madatov. The crowd did not like that decision.
63 minQarabag are still having plenty of joy down the flanks. Medvedev is released down the right on this occasion, but a defender gets across to divert the ball behind for a corner.
65 minSUBSTITUTION! Arsenal make a second change with Smith-Rowe being replaced by Ozil. He can be delighted with his evening’s work.
67 minSUBSTITUTION! Qarabag also make a second alteration as Abdullayev takes the place of Ozobic.
68 minThose alterations have disrupted the rhythm of the game and not helped Qarabag’s chances of building some momentum. Still, there is time for the home side to mount a comeback.
70 minThere is unselfish and then there is what Ozil has just done. He looks odds-on to curl the ball into the far corner from 16 yards but instead tries to set up a teammate who is on the edge of the box!
71 minSUBSTITUTION! Arsenal’s third change sees Lacazette introduced for Iwobi.
73 minWe have the first signs that Arsenal are trying to see out the remainder of the this game with minimal fuss as the ball is played about their two defensive thirds of the pitch with little intent to go forward. It’s a bit early for that.
75 minMore of the same from the Gunners who continue to nullify Qarabag, who may be tiring now. Still, Arsenal need to remain professional.
77 minYou can sense that the home crowd still expect their side to mount a late charge, but they aren’t passing the ball about with any great urgency and it is allowing Arsenal to get into position.
79 minGOAL! Qarabag FK 0-3 Arsenal (Matteo Guendouzi)
79 minIt is definitely game over now. Arsenal break forward and after Lacazette plays the ball across the edge of the penalty area to Guendouzi, the young Frenchman drills an 18-yard effort into the bottom corner for his first goal in an Arsenal shirt. All three scorers have netted their first efforts for the club.
81 minLATEST! FC Vorskla remain 1-0 ahead against Sporting Lisbon in the other game. If that remains the same, Arsenal will hold a three-point advantage at the top of Group E.
84 minSUBSTITUTION! Qarabag’s third alteration sees Slavchev come on for Garayev.
86 minSAVE! Qarabag still want a consolation goal and they almost get it through Zoubir, who is only denied from 25 yards by a stunning stop from Leno. The German goalkeeper has performed very well this evening.
88 minCHANCE! Welbeck has been relatively quiet this evening but the Englishman should make it four when receiving a pass from Lacazette in space. However, the forward’s first-time strike from 15 yards out goes well over the crossbar.
90 minThere will be three minutes of added-on time.
90+2 minLATEST! Sporting Lisbon have found an equaliser in the game against FC Vorskla! It looks like Arsenal will sit two points clear at the top of Group E.
90+3 minFULL TIME: Qarabag 0-3 Arsenal
7.48pmThe full-time whistle goes in Azerbaijan and Arsenal have eased to a 3-0 win over Qarabag thanks to goals from Sokratis, Smith-Rowe and Guendouzi. It was more difficult than the scoreline suggests, but the Gunners were full value for their victory.
7.50pmThat will be all from Sports Mole for this game. Thank you for joining us this evening and we hope that you can stick around for Chelsea’s fixture with Videoton.
If you would like to read our on-the-whistle match report, you can do so by clicking here. Goodbye for now.