This was a potential banana skin, with expectations of an Arsenal landslide, but also a packed Dundalk defence.
Arteta made ten changes, with Old Trafford in mind. In came Runarsson, for his first start, with an unusual back three of Xhaka, Mustafi and Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles and Cedric as wing backs and Nelson, Nketiah and Pepe were up front.
Most Arsenal fans wouldn’t have known anything about Dundalk, a 40,000 population, border town or their team. But they did have some experience with Sean Murray, ex-Watford and McEleney once played for Oldham.
Hein and Balogun made for an interesting Arsenal bench.
Dundalk looked a competent outfit, confirmed when Mceleney shot near to the post and Runarsson scrambled across and saved. And grabbed the resulting corner.
But the Irish side soon reverted to ten behind the ball bring back memories of five days ago. It was a case of patience and moving the ball around the Dundalk final third.
Pepe drove and the ball bounced to Cedric who lashed at it – over the bar. Pepe had another effort way over.
Then the Ivorian winger passed to Willock who sent it across the goal. Nketiah didn’t anticipate. Frustration grew. Not helped by a Kolasinac cross which Pepe headed over and Elneny laying it back to Nelson who shot just wide.
Willock drove to byeine, Kolasinac headed which was tipped over. And then he unleashed a shot which was saved by 39-year old goalkeeper Rogers.
A Pepe shot rebound Nketiah who stabbed it wide from a good chance. Was it going to be one of those nights?
Arsenal looked like they needed a Giroud-type in the box to win first balls.
But no sooner had doubts surfaced through the missed chances, Rogers missed a lofted corner and it rebounded off Cleary into space gobbled up by the pouncing Nketiah who fired it home.
That seemed to undo the psychological lock and within two minutes, Nketiah found Pepe whose shot was deflected to Willock who smashed it into the top corner, rounding off a good first half personal performance.
Sloggett, synonymous with Dundalk’s first half defensive performance came on for Murray. Arsenal upped the pace – particularly in the final third.
Willock turned in the area found Pepe who rolled it with his left and fired it in with his right. Superb skill with little back-lift.
It was time for Arteta to make changes. Mustafi came off for Ceballos and Pepe for Willian – who needs match fitness after an injury lay off. A few minutes later Xhaka went off for Tierney, with Manchester United in mind – given they have an extra day to prepare.
Willock continued to impress. A brilliant dribble and set up found Nketiah who fired over.
Nelson, who performed neat cameos, showing his acceleration, speed and trickery, but also areas he needs to improve on like finishing drove to byline and back-heeled to Tierney who fired over.
Soon after drove into the area again and tried to bend it in – but was just wide.
Mikel Arteta said :“we made it look easy. Very disciplined from the beginning. The danger is when you are not 100%. The new players coming in performed well. I wanted to give opportunities to everyone.”
Arsenal: Rúnarsson, Mustafi(Substituted for Ceballos at 61), Xhaka (Substituted for Tierney 74),Kolasinac, Cédric Soares, Willock, Elneny, Maitland-Niles, Pépé (Substituted for Willian at 62), Nelson, Nketiah (Substituted for Balogun at 74)
Dundalk: Rogers, Gartland, Boyle, Cleary (Substituted for Hoare at 53), Mountney, Murray (Substituted for Sloggett at 45), Shields ( Substituted for Gannonat 62) McEleney (Substituted for Floresat 53), Dummigan, Duffy (Substituted for Colovic at 70), Hoban.