We all like a fairy story; it appeals to the child in all of us, and long may it remain so. Regular readers of the modest and occasional archaic ramblings of this correspondent will be aware that he and The Local recently “adopted” the fortunes of the English football manager Graham Potter and his Swedish football “minnows” Ostersund FK in the Europa League. In previous posts this writer highlighted the work done in Sweden by arguably England’s most successful managerial export of recent years. The story and the magic finally came to an end recently at the Emirates when Arsenal overcame the Swedish team 4-2 on aggregate and claimed a place in the last 16 of the Europa League.
During Ostersunds run to the last 32 of the competition they beat Galatasaray, PAOK Athens, Hertha Berlin, from the Bundesliga, and drew with La Liga’s Atletico Bilboa. As was mentioned previously, Ostersunds FK have come a long way in a short time. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger said his side were complacent as they survived a huge scare. The Gunners won the first leg away 3-0 but one of football’s great shocks looked possible in the second one when, before half-time, the visitors struck two goals in 70 seconds. Graham Potter’s team, who have risen from Sweden’s fourth tier since 2010, were on top for most of the first half. But the “Gunners” improved slightly after the break and when they eventually got on the score sheet there was a palpable sense of relief inside the Emirates Stadium. “We were not at the races in the first half,” said Wenger, who saw his side booed off at half-time and full-time. “I think in the second half it was much better and we should have scored a few goals. “In the first half we were in trouble and in danger because we were complacent, not focused and were open every time we lost the ball. We had no ideas with the ball and that’s why we were in trouble. “We responded very well because we did the job to qualify, but that’s what we have to take from the night and that’s all.”
At the time of writing Ostersunds is only the second team to win a game at the Emirates in the Gunners’ last 28 matches – a run dating back to March 2017. Wenger made only three changes from the first leg and the Frenchman insisted the game was “not a formality”. But even with 21 years’ experience at the club, surely even he did not foresee what was to come in the first half, with the hosts looking shell-shocked and Ostersunds fully deserving of the lead.
Ostersund might be out – but a 14-game debut European campaign ending in a victory at Arsenal is a story for the ages. For a team who has not played a league game since November – the Swedish league is a summer event – they showed no sign of rustiness. Their remarkable story has been told many times this season: since Englishman Potter’s appointment in 2010, they have risen from the fourth tier to win last season’s Swedish Cup and qualify for Europe. Potter said before the game they needed a “miracle” and after 23 minutes, it looked like a genuine possibility.
Standout names for Ostersunds during their tremendous European campaign include Jamie Hopcutt,.whose last English club was Tadcaster Albion, Curtis Edwards, another former English non-league player, and Saman Ghoddos – praised by Wenger after the first leg. The dream was practically over when Arsenal finally got on the scoresheet but their heads did not drop – they kept going and they still had chances to score again. At the final whistle, when the dream ended, a party was taking place at the away supporter’s end. Graham Potter took his entire squad of players and backroom staff over to thank their fans. Ostersunds finished fifth in the 2017 Swedish league, not good enough for European qualification, but they can still return if they win the Swedish Cup, which runs from the summer until the spring.
Potter also joins a select club as only the sixth English manager to win a game at the Emirates, along with Alan Curbishley, Phil Brown, Harry Redknapp, Michael Appleton and Garry Monk. Potter, speaking to BT Sport: “I am very, very proud of the players and the supporters. To play in the manner we did I felt we showed real courage and bravery and played some good football against a top team.
“At 2-0 we thought we had a chance. We played well, won the game but it was just short of the miracle. “Apart from the first 20 minutes at home we went toe-to-toe with Arsenal which is no mean feat considering where we have come from. “It is a learning experience we have been having. It was the first time we were playing in the last 32. Over the course of the game we have shown what we are about and what we are trying to do. Today is a day to be proud of what we did over the two matches.”
Ostersunds FK are the first Swedish side to win an away European match in England since Osters IF beat Tottenham Hotspur in the 1995 Intertoto Cup. Ostersund’s league season does not start until April. However, the Swedish cup starts soon.
There is no doubt that whatever the future holds for Potter and his charges it was a wonderful ride for his team and we wish them well in the future. Following the usual protocol when a team gets eliminated form a competition it’s the intention of your humble correspondent to follow the fortunes of Arsenal in the Europa League. Arsenal will play seven-time European champions AC Milan in the Europa League last 16. The “Gunners” will travel to Italy for the first leg on 8 March, with the return match a week later. Watch this space for updates on Arsenal’s progress in the Europa League. Where else could you enjoy lunch on a Thursday afternoon but at The Local?