Arsenal (1) 3 Vitoria SC (2) 2
UEFA Europa League, Group F, Matchday 3 of 6
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday 24th October 2019. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, Kieran Tierney; Lucas Torreira, Joe Willock; Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith-Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli, Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Dani Ceballos, Nicolas Pépé, Calum Chambers, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sead Kolašinac, Bukayo Saka.
Scorers: Gabriel Martinelli (32 mins), Nicolas Pépé (80 mins, 90+2 mins)
Yellow Cards: Shkodran Mustafi, Alexandre Lacazette
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 68%
Referee: Serdar Gözübüyük (Netherlands)
Attendance: circa 40,000
The art of living dangerously is still alive and well, and being practised with some aplomb at The Emirates Stadium, unbelievably. After just eight minutes, in front of a sparsely populated stadium, Marcus Edwards somehow managed to propel a poor shot through Emiliano Martínez’s legs to put the visitors ahead. More calamity was to come later on the half. This goal was a total shock to the system for us, as the highly organised Portuguese outfit attempted to gain control of the match and shockingly came close several times after taking the lead so early in the game.
Arsenal returned with Alexandre Lacazette coming narrowly close with an excellent shot; we then started to at least match the visitors with some excellent possession football, with our players pouring forward in a desire to bring the scores level. Our efforts were rewarded, when just after the half hour, the superb Kieran Tierney placed a pinpoint cross in from the left for Gabriel Martinelli to rise up and head the ball over Miguel Silva and into the net to equalise the scores. Brilliant stuff really, but our joy was short-lived. Unfortunately some sloppy play in the middle of the park saw us fatally lose possession, and in the ensuing chaos that followed in our eighteen-yard box, the Brazilian winger Davidson’s shot hit the post just past an outstretched Emiliano Martínez only for Bruno Duarte to score Vitoria’s second of the night with a blistering shot taken at a very tight angle. How did we respond? Sluggishly is the answer. Despite one or two promising moves, all in all we looked as if we were the away side, and by the time the half-time whistle blew from the Dutch referee, our players looked as if they had enough pain and anguish for one half.
For the second half, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles made way for Dani Ceballos along with Mattéo Guendouzi in an attempt to redress the balance, and also to stop the many voices of dissent in the stadium. For the next ten minutes, the fresh legs of the substitutes made a difference with our team controlling the midfield and making several decent attempts on the Vitoria goal; perhaps the best of them was when Kieran Tierney passed the ball in from the left to Emile Smith-Rowe, who shot frustratingly wide of the goal.
After a rather unsavoury incident involving Alexandre Lacazette and Victor Garcia (which saw the latter booked for his trouble), our rather tenuous grip on this match started to wane. The harder you try, the more you can lose out, so bearing this in mind, and with just a quarter of an hour left, Alexandre Lacazette made way for Nicolas Pépé in order to salvage this wreck of a match. Cometh the hour, cometh the man! A superb left-footed free-kick strike from Nicolas Pépé drew the sides level eleven minutes before the end of the game. We now felt anything was possible, and time and time again our forwards poured into the opposition half to make chances for each other. Just when it looked as if all of our attempts would finish in a draw, up popped Nicolas Pépé to score again from a free kick taken outside the penalty area! Such drama! Just like the old days, just like the Arsenal of old, my friend; 1-2 down, 3-2 winners at the end. If only.
Look, a win is a win is a win, right? And it was high drama bringing on Nicolas Pépé to administer the final, fatal blow. But, in the cold light of day, not everything is exactly rosy in Camp Emirates is it? For large chunks of the game we were playing catch-up with the visitors, especially when we found ourselves behind so early in the match. Are we improving? Is this a case of déjà vu from the terminal years of the Wenger era? Our performance in the Premiership will hold the key to the truth, and perhaps Sunday’s match against Crystal Palace will give us more of a clue as to where this enigmatic band of brothers really are in the greater scheme of things. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Crystal Palace at The Emirates on 27th October at 4.30pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. 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.