Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as Arsenal opened their Europa League Group E campaign with a comfortable 4-2 win over Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava.
Until Aubameyang’s opening goal it had been a laboured performance from the Gunners, who had struggled to break through well-drilled opponents.
However, the Gabon striker – the club’s record £56m signing last January – changed the dynamics of the contest by steering Alex Iwobi’s pass into the bottom left corner after the visitors overcommitted in attack.
It was only Aubameyang’s sixth touch of the game, and Arsenal’s first shot on target but it allowed them to cut loose after the break.
England forward Danny Welbeck doubled Arsenal’s lead three minutes after the interval with a header from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s cross.
And as Unai Emery’s team surged forward, Aubameyang stroked his second goal of the night past visiting goalkeeper Bohdan Shust before substitute Mesut Ozil rounded off the scoring for the hosts.
“I didn’t play in the Europa League last year and I am really happy to be back in this competition,” said Aubameyang.
“We want to go to the final, of course – it is an objective and hopefully we will do well in our next games.”
At 4-0 the scoreline was cruel on Vorskla, who have had a mixed start in the Ukrainian Premier League after finishing third last term.
They did, though, muster consolation goals via captain Vladimir Chesnakov’s left-footed shot from 18 yards and Vyacheslav Sharpar’s strike moments before the final whistle blew.
In the group’s other game, Sporting Lisbon beat Azerbaijani side FK Qarabag 2-0.
A night for new boys
Despite making eight changes to his line-up, Arsenal manager Emery was still able to select an XI brimming with international players as he racked up his 32nd win in the competition, more than any other manager in the Europa League.
There were opportunities for Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira, Switzerland full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner and Germany goalkeeper Bernd Leno – all three making their Arsenal debut.
The inclusion of Torreira, a £26m signing from Sampdoria, and Leno, a £19.2m acquisition from Bayer Leverkusen, also served to underline the disparity in resources available to each manager.
Vorskla manager Vasyl Sachko’s squad has a combined value of about £11m and even at near full strength he could only field four senior internationals – two from Ukraine and one from Georgia and Armenia.
“We are giving chances to many players to find confidence,” Emery told BT Sport.
“We need to because we are going to play a lot of matches and need to give minutes to players. I want to continue to be competitive in each match. Some players are better when they are playing regularly.”
While Spaniard Emery deployed a more cosmopolitan side, he was also afforded the luxury of handing a senior bow to a homegrown player, Emile Smith-Rowe.
An Under-17 World Cup winner with England last October, Smith-Rowe is highly regarded at the club’s London Colney training ground.
And the 18-year-old attacking midfielder did enough in a 20-minute cameo to suggest he may be given further chances, intercepting a Vorskla attack with his first touch and going on to show a willingness to get hold of the ball.