Just days before the League Cup final, a little-known Swedish team pitched up at the Emirates for a second leg fixture in the Europa League. The match was deemed by most to be a mere formality, with the Gunners having won the first leg 3-0 in comfortable fashion. So, it was unsurprising that a vast number of Arsenal fans were unhappy that Arsene Wenger had to decided to put out such a strong team, considering a huge game at Wembley against Manchester City would take place just three days later.
But then the match kicked-off… with Arsenal playing in their “unlucky” blue away kit despite being the home side. Maybe it was the hint that this was not a night of normality.
How Did Östersunds Win at Arsenal?
No-one might have been betting on them, but straight from the off, Östersunds showed that they were not in awe of Arsenal. Something which certainly seemed to be the case in the first half of their home fixture.
They were comfortable on the ball, moved it forward well and pressed the Gunners across the pitch. Arsenal, on the other hand, seemed content with keeping the ball, without any emphasis on attack – effectively trying to run down the clock from the first minute.
Östersunds quickly realised they were more than capable of picking up a shock win at the Emirates, and they were rewarded for their positive play in the 22nd minute, when Rob Holding failed to clear the danger after moving out of central defence, which the Swedish side quickly punished, laying on a through ball for their wide man, Hosam Aiesh, who duly despatched from a tight angle. Nevertheless, the tie was surely beyond the reach of the Swedish minnows.
70 seconds later, Östersunds had the ball in the back of the net again. On the opposite flank Ken Sema latched on to a looping ball, easily losing Calum Chambers with a neat bit of skill and fired across goal into the bottom corner. 23 minutes in, and Östersunds were leading Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates, and were just one goal away from levelling the tie.
Arsenal kept it tight for the rest of the half and emerged for the second half with a point to prove. Within a couple of minutes, Arsenal packed men into the box as the ball was crossed in, but Mukiibi made a hash of the clearance, allowing Sead Kolašinac to emphatically fire the ball into the roof of the net. The goal wasn’t met with celebrations, but instead an element of relief.
The game opened up radically after this point, with Östersunds fearlessly throwing men forward as Arsenal looked to catch them out on the break. Despite their best efforts, the Swedish side couldn’t complete their impossible mission, but no-one could doubt who the better team was on the day, with the Gunners again booed off the pitch.
Who Are Östersunds?
Östersunds’ win over Arsenal is all the more impressive when you take a look at the club’s short history.
The club represents the tiny city of Östersund, found slap bang in the middle of Sweden with a population of just 50,000. It was founded in 1996 as multiple clubs in the city merged, however the club stayed in the country’s third tier until it was relegated to the fourth tier in 2011. This proved to be a defining moment for the club, as the club’s chairman, Daniel Kindberg, met with other officials at the club to figure out exactly why they do what they do, and what the club represents. With this in mind, he returned to the position of Director of Football, and appointed young English manager, Graham Potter, as manager.
Who Is Graham Potter?
Potter had no management experience, although had played professionally in England for the likes of Southampton, Stoke and West Brom, before retiring at the age of 30. Potter recognised the difficultly of getting into management in England, and so set about it in an alternative fashion, acquiring a degree in Social Sciences from the Open University before working as a football development manager for the University of Hull and then Leeds Metropolitan University. At Leeds Met, he also completed a master’s in leadership and emotional intelligence.
Potter was recommended to Kindberg by Swansea’s Graeme Jones, and set about creating a club culture that focussed on developing players not just for football, but also as human beings. The Englishman led Östersunds to a remarkable rise, winning back-to-back titles to rise to the second tier, and then gaining promotion after three years into the Swedish top flight. Östersunds established themselves quickly at the top of the Swedish game and shocked the nation when they won the Svenska Cupen to qualify for the Europa League.
Nobody expected them to win a match in Europe, especially after drawing Turkish giants Galatasaray in the second qualifying round. However, Östersunds upset the odds once more, beating them 3-1 on aggregate, before beating Fola Esch and PAOK in order to reach the group stage. This would surely be in the end of the road for them though, with Athletic Bilbao, Hertha Berlin and Zorya in their way. Instead, they well to just one defeat, securing their qualification with a game to spare, before drawing – and almost stunning - Arsenal in the knockout stages.
It’s safe to say we haven’t heard the last of Östersunds.