Arsenal skated on thin ice but survived his expedition to the far north of Norway. They didn’t exactly produce a spectacle in the land of the Northern Lights and, in truth, Bodø/Glimt should have made them pay for a passive second half. Their creative radar was off for most of a chilly night, but Bukayo Saka’s lucky first-half goal proved enough to end one of the continent’s most eye-catching records. A skilful and smart home side had won their last 14 European games here and it was no small feat that the race was finally halted.
The hosts cemented their reputation as one of the most progressive clubs, pound-for-pound, in this competition and it was easy to see why the likes of Celtic, Dinamo Zagreb and, twice, Roma been humiliated here last year. If their centre-forward Runar Espejord hadn’t skied a glorious eight-yard chance just before the hour mark, they would have sniffed out another scalp. It wasn’t their only opportunity during a flurry of intense attacks and their loud, passionate yet melodious support was warranted to cheer them on full time.
They had rarely let go all evening. Bodø had seen few occasions like this and it was as if, in addition to facing Kjetil Knutsen’s side, Arsenal came up against the civic pride of an entire community. Bodø/Glimt’s signature yellow and black are unmistakable at every turn in this charming, secluded fishing town 80km inside the Arctic Circle; flags waved proudly in front of suburban homes while inside the stadium the number of supporters not wearing at least a trace of their colors could have been counted on one hand.
An MC guided them through a series of club anthems before kick-off; the atmosphere, in a setting that offered a refreshing antidote to the uniformity among many modern footballing citadels, was fiercely partisan but not hostile.
Mikel Arteta was simply delighted that his players negotiated it, and the artificial surface that had irritated Jose Mourinho after Roma’s second humiliation. “Not many teams do that,” he said of Bodø/Glimt’s winning streak. “We came here as number 15 and we won it. We talked about it the last few days and that was the challenge in different conditions, in a different context, making a lot of changes: finding a way to win. We did it.
A win in their draw with PSV Eindhoven next Thursday would guarantee Arsenal one of the top two spots in Group A. The strike that kept their record 100 per cent was odd: odd enough that it took a second or two for the pocket away fans, huddled at the other end, only to realize they had reason to celebrate. Saka played a clever brace with Albert Sambi Lokonga but, near the right corner of the penalty area, he appeared to be squeezed out as he fired. His effort was blocked by Marius Høibråten, who had slid to intervene but hit him directly and fell into the net. Cue an eerie silence and, finally, recognition at 120 yards. “I think it came out of my lips, it’s nice,” Saka said.
Arsenal offered nothing else in attack beyond a half chance, immediately after scoring, that Saka clipped the target. Arteta had recognized the danger of this match by holding off four starters from the win over Liverpool; they controlled long stretches of the first half but Martin Ødegaard, who last played here aged 15 for Strømsgodset in 2014, was calm as William Saliba and Ben White stretched out after the break.
“Football isn’t always fair,” said Bodø/Glimt coach Knutsen. “We were a bit unlucky with the goal we conceded but that’s life. I’m really proud of how we raised the bar in the game at the Emirates.
Back then they were down 3-0 but that never looked likely here. Amahl Pellegrino and Ola Solbakken both closed shortly before Espejord’s miss and the impressive schemer Hugo Vetlesen didn’t quite manage to tame a through ball that would have sent him clear. The slippery terrain in the pouring rain didn’t help but it was the same for both teams.
“You could see it was too fast for us, but there’s no excuse,” Arteta said. He was pleased with the way Matt Turner, whose lengthy injury-time penalty shootout spoke of Arsenal’s discomfort, swept the balls Bodø/Glimt fizzled behind and described the performance of the American as “phenomenal”.
It was overkill, but his relief at avoiding a banana peel in this sea of yellow was justified.