Vitoria SC (0) 1 Arsenal (0) 1
UEFA Europa League, Group F, Matchday 4 of 6
Estádio D. Afonso Henriques, Av. São Gonçalo 1028, Guimarães, Portugal
Wednesday, 6th November 2019. Kick-off time: 3.50pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Shkodran Mustafi, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Joe Willock, Dani Ceballos; Kieran Tierney, Nicolas Pépé, Gabriel Martinelli; Bukayo Saka.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Hector Bellerin, Alexandre Lacazette, Lucas Torreira, Reiss Nelson, Mattéo Guendouzi, Sead Kolašinac.
Scorers: Shkodran Mustafi (80 mins)
Yellow Cards: Rob Holding, Shkodran Mustafi
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 65%
Referee: Halis Özkahya (Turkey)
Attendance: circa 28,000
Now there’s a strange set of rules which surround the aura of the Europa League; no kick-off times are ever constant, and situations can literally change at the drop of a hat. Today’s bizarre kick-off time is due to a timing issue with the two Champions League matches which start at 5.55pm (and 8.00pm as well), so therefore we have to alter the time of our game to accommodate the CL television coverage, as those matches have priority. Additionally, our tie against Vitoria SC is played a day earlier because their local rivals Braga are also playing in the Europa League and it was considered by the great and the good at UEFA that it would not be a good idea to have two sets of fans descending on the vicinity at the same time on the same day. Having said that, and despite all of the complications surrounding this tie, it is great to play a match in Europe again on a Wednesday evening.
But that’s all, quite frankly. The weather was terrible, and so was the match as well. Bearing that in mind, the home side started confidently, and as early as the eighth minute, our alarm bells started to ring when Pêpê of Vitoria SC whacked the ball against the post from 20 yards with Emiliano Martínez beaten, which made us all breathe a collective sigh of relief. But sadly our pain wasn’t over; in the first half, our defence looked completely helpless as both Edmond Tapsoba and Marcus Edwards came close to scoring the opening goal within the first half hour of the game. The rest of the first half was a dogged affair with free kicks being given away by both sides, mistimed tackles and botched goal attempts. It is to be noted that the Vitoria SC goalkeeper, Douglas, was not called into action at any time in the first half, as all of our goal attempts never hit the target. Worse was to follow.
At least when the second half arrived, we did attempt to try to get some cohesive play together, but unfortunately it all went to seed as Dani Ceballos pulled up with a hamstring injury in the fifty-fourth minute; Mattéo Guendouzi took his place and almost immediately we retreated into a type of containment game that restricted our play. In an attempt to spark some life into this moribund match, Bukayo Saka was substituted for Alexandre Lacazette, and twelve minutes later, young Joe Willock gave way for the more experienced Lucas Torreira; it worked. With ten minutes left on the clock, a superb Nicolas Pépé ball from a free kick saw Shkodran Mustafi score with a downward header. Surely this was the winner? The one we had been waiting for? Nope. As usual, we couldn’t hold onto a lead. In the injury time that followed, Bruno Duarte scored the equalising goal with a scissor-kick that our defence should by rights, have blocked. And yet, with seconds left before the end, the home side nearly scored again, when Shkodran Mustafi deflected a shot onto the post, and Rochinha narrowly missed our goal with literally seconds left.
It was a real shame that, although tonight’s match was ruined by torrential rain that we could merely manage a draw; but if Standard Liege lose to Eintracht Frankfurt, we will make the last thirty-two teams in this competition. Again, we failed to hang onto a lead, and despite clocking up sixty-five per cent possession in awful conditions, we could only manage one shot on our opponents’ goal, and that was when we scored the opening goal of the night. Although Unai Emery changed the formation of the team, along with eight changes we were still unable to defend our goal effectively. If we play as sloppily as this on Saturday against Leicester City, then their highly disciplined attackers will punish us greatly. And if that happens, then the sky may well fall in for both Unai Emery and this team of lost footballers. 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: Leicester City at King Power Stadium on Saturday, 9th November at 5.30pm (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.