LONDON • Owing to a quirk in the tournament rules so outmoded that it has since been abolished, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was not allowed to play a single minute of Europa League football last term, having been cup-tied following his mid-season move from Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal.
They needed him then but he needed the Europa League now.
The Gabon striker has been in indifferent form so far this season, with only one Premier League goal in five starts to his name, but Thursday's 4-2 win over Ukrainian outfit Vorskla gave him all the space he needed to get his mojo back.
The Europa League holds a special place in Unai Emery's heart given that he has won the trophy three times, and although the path to the final is a long stretch, the Arsenal manager took this opening Group E game seriously enough to pick a strong team at the Emirates.
Although much changed from the team who won 2-1 at Newcastle last Saturday, Arsenal were still full of seasoned internationals. It was a chance to make an impression, to nudge Emery and stake a claim to be involved in tomorrow's home league game with Everton.
Bernd Leno's goalkeeping debut was of particular interest, with Petr Cech's jitters adapting to Emery's new system that demands playing the ball out from the back, and his distribution was crisp.
Lucas Torreira, consistently impressive in his cameos since joining from Sampdoria in the summer, also made his first start as well. Arsenal pounced to score with their first shot on target, after Aubameyang turned on the afterburners for a one-goal lead going into the break.
Danny Welbeck headed in the second and Aubameyang then finished with curling finesse for his brace. Mesut Ozil came on to help himself to a fourth although the Gunners again showed their soft underbelly by conceding two late goals.
And Aubameyang urged his teammates to maintain their focus until the final whistle, with Emery's men yet to keep a clean sheet so far this season. "We played well in the first half and in the beginning of the second," he told BT Sport. "We have to improve and try to fight not to concede like in the last minute."
Premier League joint leaders Chelsea also made a winning start to their Group L campaign as Willian's seventh-minute effort was enough to see off Paok in Greece.
Eden Hazard did not travel due to fatigue. But Maurizio Sarri still fielded a strong side as the Blues extended their winning run to six games in all competitions, although the visitors missed a raft of chances to put the contest to bed early.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN