Arsenal (0) 0 Sporting Club of Portugal (0) 0
UEFA Europa League, Group E, Matchday 4 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 8th November 2018. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Cech; Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Jenkinson; Guendouzi, Ramsey; Smith-Rowe, Mkhitaryan, Iwobi; Welbeck.
Substitutes: Martínez, Mustafi, Kolašinac, Torreira, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Aubameyang.
Yellow Cards: Lichtsteiner, Guendouzi
Referee: Gediminas Mazeika
After the success of the first leg, we all sincerely hope that tonight’s match will be a formality, and that Arsenal can march onwards and upwards in this competition with confidence and belief. We hope. The last time we hosted a match against tonight’s visitors was at The Old Place on 26th November 1969, and on that particular occasion, Arsenal ended up winning the game by three goals to none in front of a 35,253 crowd; the writer of this review was one of those present on a dark and cold North London night to witness this victory first hand. Eventually we went on to win the competition of course, and who knows? Perhaps the omens will be good for us this season as well. We hope.
Tonight’s match will be remembered for other things, mainly the horrific injury to Danny Welbeck in the first half, which saw the popular striker carried off with an ankle problem that looked extremely serious, especially after he was seen receiving oxygen by the medical staff whilst on the pitch. In situations such as these, we gauge the problem by the mood of the players and the deathly quiet that pervades the stadium. In and around this incident, Arsenal were gaining control, albeit in fits and starts, but nevertheless, the dominant team on the night; with over 75 per cent accredited possession, it seemed merely bagatelle that they would score, but this task eluded them.
After the match restarted, Arsenal quite understandably took time to find their previous confidence, but not so the quickfire Mattéo Guendouzi, though despite only a young player, certainly left his mark on this game with his intelligent on (and off the) ball play – a joy to watch and a problem for opponents to play against. He was everywhere tonight, on the wing, down the channels, back in defence. Certainly a player with a bright future and an important presence in this embryonic and growing team.
Arsenal certainly had their chances, with Aaron Ramsey, Emile Smith-Rowe and Henrikh Mkhitaryan feeding each other with deft passing and taking turns in taking pot-shots at the Sporting Lisbon goal. As usual, Mr. Emery started the dance of the substitutes on the hour, with a beleaguered Carl Jenkinson being replaced by the battle-hardened Sead Kolašinac, who certainly made his mark within minutes of entering the fray by intelligent positioning and clever ball distribution. Sadly our second injury of the night appeared when Stephan Lichtsteiner pulled up with what seemed to be a hamstring injury, and was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles, who dovetailed nicely into the existing Arsenal system tonight.
With 80 minutes on the clock, Alex Iwobi was unlucky with a chance that saw some clever inter-play between himself and Henrikh Mkhitaryan that was neutralised by the Sporting goalkeeper; just minutes afterwards, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang burst through on goal, and was brought down outside the box for his trouble. The defender was sent off, and the subsequent free-kick was wasted and soared high into the dark of the emptying stadium, which seemed to sum up Arsenal’s night overall.
Arsenal have qualified for the last 32 of the competition, but it came with a heavy price; injuries to two crucial players and another booking for Mattéo Guendouzi. But we are still unbeaten in 15 matches, and tonight was the first game that we have not found the back of the net since the Manchester City clash earier in the season. The next match at the Emirates are the emerging Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday afternoon, and with the speed of their attack, our midfield and defence will be tested to the maximum. 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.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.