Sporting Club of Portugal (0) 0 Arsenal (0) 1
UEFA Europa League, Group E, Matchday 3 of 6
Estádio José Alvalade Stadium
Thursday, 25th October 2018. Kick-off time: 5.55pm
(4-2-3-1) Leno; Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Xhaka; Guendouzi, Elneny; Mkhitaryan, Ramsey (C); Welbeck, Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Martinez, Mustafi, Jenkinson, Torreira, Iwobi, Özil, Lacazette.
Yellow Cards: Mkhitaryan, Holding
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia)
If we all believe in omens, then tonight is going to be a classic case. In the season that we won the Fairs Cup (1969-70), Arsenal beat Sporting Club de Portugal en route to the final, so let’s hope that tonight, history (which can be fickle) repeats itself and we shall be starting on our journey to glory! One of the big three of Portuguese football (along with Benfica and Porto), Sporting Club de Portugal, at the time of writing, are currently fifth in Primeira Liga, a league that they have won 18 times; last season they finished third, behind champions FC Porto and Benfica.
A strong Gunners team lined up here for the early kick-off at The Estádio José Alvalade Stadium, which also included, amongst our substitutes, the return of Carl Jenkinson, which I must say was a surprise (but welcome) addition to the bench tonight in Lisbon. True to form, and true to our season, the first half of tonight’s match was lukewarm by anyone’s standards, let alone Mr. Emery’s. With just two shots on target, it was looking like we were all careering towards a dull-and-dreary goalless draw, with the Arsenal machine creaking down and punching through the gears into a pitiful crawl. The one and only incident of note was when Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s free kick was punched away by the Sporting Lisbon goalie almost on the stroke of half-time; by this time we were all starting to wonder if Arsenal’s talent had been impounded at Portuguese customs upon landing.
However, the second half started, and the Arsenal model of 2018-19 started to look like the team that we have known for most of this campaign. We picked up the pace quite early, and the on-form Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang led the charge with two chances which were denied that on any other day would have ended up with a goal for him. Time for a change, time for fresh legs; just before the hour, Mohamed Elneny made way for Lucas Torreira, and suddenly everything started to move up a notch. Passing became more accurate, tackling was precise and crisp, and more importantly than all of these things, players started to run into space and find their renewed hunger for the game. Out of nowhere, the goal appeared, like a welcome genie out of the bottle. A clever back-heel from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, which the Sporting Club defender failed to address, and Danny Welbeck capitalised immediately on the error, striking a perfect ball through the goalie’s legs and into the corner of the net; from that moment onwards, the match was truly ours. As Mr. Emery is prone to do in these situations, more substitutions became paramount. Danny Welbeck left the pitch in favour of Alexandre Lacazette, and six minutes later, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang followed him into the dressing room, to be replaced by Alex Iwobi; and apart from one or two chances here and there, the match was ours, even after a mysterious five minutes of injury time.
Not wishing to rain on anyone’s parade, our defence is still problematical at times; it’s not just the centre backs either, the full-backs charge up the field and don’t recover quickly enough – they lack awareness at times and get caught too many times out of position. These problems, which may seem minor at the moment will return to haunt us in the future when we meet teams in the Premier League that can (and will) punish us badly for these indiscretions. But eleven matches undefeated speak for themselves, and the stats that state high percentage possession are always welcome to see, of course. Next match is Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park this Sunday, and the expectations are growing ever higher with each game. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as these early days are going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners.
Victoria Concordia Crescit.