30 Sept 2022

GERRY MALONE: Mighty Arsenal on Thursday for Dundalk plus a vital league clash

Gerry Malone casts an eye over this week’s huge Europa League clash with Arsenal and the need to get a result against Pat’s for European football next season

GERRY MALONE: Mighty Arsenal on Thursday for Dundalk plus a vital league clash

It's going to be some week for Dundalk as on Thursday they take on Arsenal in the second game in their group in the UEFA Europa League.

It's going to be one almighty occasion for Dundalk as the club have never met Arsenal either in friendlies or in Europe.

In fact, this will be the first time ever that Arsenal will face any Irish opposition in a European competition.

Arsenal got off to a good start in the group coming from behind to beat Rapid Vienna in Austria last week.

Things did not go Dundalk's way in Tallaght stadium, going down to a 2-1 defeat against Norwegian champions Molde.

Sean Murray put Dundalk ahead in the first half; heading home a marvellous goal from a John Mountney cross. Pat Hoban also had a goal disallowed in a very controversial decision.

Molde tore into Dundalk in the second half and pegged then right back in their own half.

Dundalk seemed to be tiring when Molde struck for their first goal. They could not deal with a cross that was fired home - taking a deflection off Sean Gannon.

The second goal - and winner - came when Sean Gannon clipped a Molde player in the box. The penalty was converted and Dundalk were behind.

They never realistically looked like getting an equaliser.

Molde only had two shots on target on the Dundalk goal and scored both.

On the balance of play Dundalk deserved to get something out of the game.

It was a costly defeat, as a win would have given Dundalk €560,000 in prize money. A draw would have given them €285,000.

As I said, overall Dundalk played well. But the performance did leave some doubt and worry in my mind. I was very concerned that Dundalk fell back and let Molde rip through them. This very often happens in Italy when managers get their sides to defend on mass. So did this tactic come from the Dundalk manager or was it that Dundalk could just not take the game to Molde?

I was also very concerned at the way Dundalk seemed to tire so easily in the second half. Now I know the team is being asked to play three games a week, a crazy schedule. But during Stephen Kenny's reign as manager or Vinny Perth's, I never before saw Dundalk tire in the way they did last Thursday. This should not have happened. They are full-time players and the strength and conditioning they get should ensure they do not visibly tire in the way they did.

Filippo Giovagnoli admitted afterwards that he was too late making changes. Even still, the side should not have tired.

The Dundalk manager was - amazingly - forced to manage his team from the stand as he does not have the UEFA pro-licence to manage a team. He did what he had to do from the stands.

Thursday's game against Arsenal will not be the first time Dundalk have played a north London team in Europe.

In October 1981 they met Spurs in the second round of the European cup winners cup. In front of a crowd of 20,000 at Oriel, Dundalk held the mighty Spurs to a 1-1 draw.

Spurs went in front early on when Garth Crooks put the north Londoners ahead.

But Dundalk had the mighty Jim McLaughlin in the dugout. Dundalk battled back with a fantastic goal from Mick Fairclough to tie the game.

The match was played during a time when the Troubles were very bad. The last of the hunger strikers had just died and tensions were high.

There was no trouble in the ground. But little did anyone know that Gardai had mounted a serious surveillance operation in the ground.

Ben Dunne the owner of Dunnes Stores was kidnapped by the IRA about a week before the game.

Gardai had got a tip off that a ransom of half a million pounds was to be paid to the kidnappers in Oriel during the Spurs game.

The switch never happened. But thankfully Mr Dunne was released on a road in South Armagh days later.

The ransom was paid a couple of days after the Spurs game, unknown to Gardai.

The second leg was played at White Harte Lane two weeks later.

Dundalk gave Spurs one hell of a fright. Spurs won the home leg 1-0.

They won the tie 2-1 on aggregate.

This Dundalk team face a massive huge task in London on Thursday.

The gulf in class between the sides is huge. To me, Dundalk will just try to keep the score to a respectable one.

But knowing this Dundalk team so well they will not go out and face the Gunners as if they are mere cannon fodder.

Dundalk's worst ever defeat in Europe was when they were beaten 10-0 nil at Anfield by Liverpool. In the return leg Liverpool won 4-0 at Oriel. They won 14-0 on aggregate.

That clash was in the old Inter City Fairs competition which is now the Europa League.

Arsenal are a superb team. Dundalk must keep it tight at the back and hit them on the break. The English FA cup holders beat Rapid Vienna 2-1 in the Europa League last Thursday.

I can't see anything but an Arsenal win as they look to register their second win in the group stage this season.

Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang became only the sixth player ever since 2019 to score 20 goals in the Europa League. He scored last Thursday.

Indeed he has netted 16 goals in his last 23 appearances in the competition.

English sides have won 11 of their 12 home games against teams from the Republic of Ireland in European competition and drawn one. The English sides have scored 56 times conceding only five.

Dundalk have faced English opponents on six previous occasions.

Arsenal will face Irish opposition for the first time in a UEFA competition.

Saturday saw Shamrock Rovers clinch the title without kicking a ball.

Bohemians were the only side that mathematically could catch them. But second from bottom Finn Harps caused a massive upset winning 2-0 in Dalymount Park.

Cork City have been dramatically relegated. This was after their 2-1 defeat to Sligo at the Showgrounds.

Finn Harps head to the playoffs.

On Sunday Dundalk headed to the Southeast to take on Waterford FC at the RSC. Sadly they went down to a single goal defeat. This was Dundalk's second league game in six days apart from the European game. On Monday Dundalk put in a highly impressive performance beating Derry City at the Brandywell. It should have been more. Derry got back into the game when they conceded a goal from a set piece. Aaron McCarey failed to clear the ball and City shot home.

Manager Filippo Giovagnoli has been rotating many players with Europe in mind.

Once he made 10 changes to the team. Another time he made seven changes. Filippo has had no choice given the amount of games his side have had to play.

I asked him a few weeks ago about why he was rotating goalkeepers. Managers usually don't rotate keepers the way they do with other players. Filippo defended his decision to rotate keepers and said Aaron McCarey was an excellent keeper. There is no doubt the Monaghan man is a good keeper but I would be keeping Gary Rogers in the run-in to all games at the end of the season.

The manager rotated his goalkeeper against Waterford. Aaron McCarey played well throughout but was caught for the Waterford goal just after half time. It was not only Aaron. The whole defence has to take responsibility.

A free floated in from a set piece on the right was not dealt with. John Martin, completely unmarked, slotted the ball home.

Michael Duffy was always working hard as was John Mountney.

But the players who were not even playing on Thursday looked tired. David McMillan tried hard but was never a threat apart from one header that forced the Waterford keeper in to a great save.

The substitutions were made. Sean Gannon came on. Instead of playing at right full, he pushed the young Dubliner on to the right hand side of midfield. Sean did well. But to me the move was just tinkering with the side from their original positions.

With five minutes left Dundalk had four players up front instead of the normal one.

Sean Gannon was pushed even further up the field and Brian Gartland was a striker.

This would never have happened under Stephen Kenny or Vinny Perth.

The secret behind their success was that they always played a settled team week in week out, even playing three games a week when in Europe.

Filippo Giovagnoli said in a post match press conference that he was brought in to do two things. One was to get Dundalk to the group stages of the Europa league and to ensure Dundalk are in Europe next season.

Filippo said he had achieved one of the tasks he was asked to do. The second was to get Dundalk into Europe next season.

After the defeat at the RSC in Waterford the Dundalk boss said all his attention was focused now on the remainder of the league.

He said the Arsenal game on Thursday was not in his mind at all.

It was next Sunday's game against Pat's in the league.

The Italian knows he must beat Pats next weekend. The win would all but ensure Dundalk of third spot and Europe.

How ironic it's against Stephen O'Donnell's side - Pats at Inchicore.

Stephen will always be a hero to Dundalk supporters captaining the club to three of the five league titles they won in six years.

All that must be forgotten next Sunday as both sides chase Europe.

I don't know honestly what the outcome will be. But I'm worried.

And what if Filippo fails to get Europe for next season, what will chairman Bill Hulsizer do? Will he keep the manager or push him out? I don't think that will happen as I think Dundalk will do the business.

But I'm concerned at the way Dundalk tired on Thursday against Molde on Thursday or how even more tired they were on Sunday.

One last point that I've mentioned before. I feel Peak6 need to make serious efforts to connect with the people of Dundalk.

They have failed in this area miserably.

They should also have a board of directors locally who can make decisions of their own. They know what's really needed. It's crazy that the club is being run from Florida not Ireland. And we need a person at the helm or as chairman who knows and understands football from the bottom to the top.

Our current chairman Bill Hulsizer could be the club international chief executive. But we need a person and persons on the ground here who know what it takes and who will make the big decisions in conjunction with the American executive.

Drogheda dramatically went back to the top of Division one on Saturday when they beat Wexford FC 2-0.

Meanwhile Bray Wanderers surrendered their leadership by losing 1-0 against Galway at the Carlisle grounds.

If Drogheda beat Cabinteely tonight they will be promoted. If Bray beat Athlone and Drogheda draw or lose, Bray will be promoted.

Warrenpoint also got their first win in the Irish League premier division. They beat Dungannon all over the pitch. It was their second game of the new season. They won't be battling against relegation.

Anyway best of luck to Dundalk against Arsenal. Let’s hope Filippo can lead his side to a decent result .

Anyway it's the end of one week and the start of a new one.

And remember please be careful out there.

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