MAtch report: Standard Liege 2 Arsenal 2

Standard Liège (0) 2 Arsenal (0) 2
UEFA Europa League, Group F, Matchday 6 of 6
Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Rue de la Centrale 2, 4000 Liège, Belgium
Thursday, 12th December 2019. Kick-off time: 5.55pm
(4-2-3-1) Emiliano Martínez; Sokratis Papastathopoulos, David Luiz, Konstantinos Mavropanos, Ainsley Maitland-Niles; Joe Willock, Mattéo Guendouzi; Bukayo Saka, Reiss Nelson, Emile Smith-Rowe; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Calum Chambers, Gabriel Martinelli, Tyreece John-Jules, Zak Medley, James Olayinka.
Scorers: Alexandre Lacazette (78 mins), Bukayo Saka (81 mins)
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 57%
Referee: Andreas Ekberg (Sweden)
Attendance: circa 27,000
Freddie Ljungberg’s team selection here in an extremely cold Liège evening, reflected both the confidence he feels with the team being top of Group F and with one eye on Sunday afternoon as well, which is also a good chance to have a look at some young players and their possible roles within his team structure.
Agreed, the home team had to beat Arsenal by a cricket score for us to be deposed from our position at the top of Group F, but there was surely no excuse for some sloppy play in the first half. And yet, despite all this, young Emile Smith-Rowe was extremely unlucky not to score after a quarter of an hour, and both Bukayo Saka and Reiss Nelson came close with their clever efforts. The conditions here in Liège were not exactly conducive to good football, with the ball bouncing and bobbling here and there, which made things doubly worse for our young side. Standard Liège never really looked as if they were at the races in the first forty-five minutes, but also we never capitalised on their poor performance with regards to goals scored.
Come the second half, and a different match was revealed. Within minutes of the restart, the home side took the lead with what could best be described as a most fortunate goal indeed. Samuel Bastien hit a ball from twenty yards towards our goal, and on its travels, took a ricochet from Sokratis Papastathopoulos and spun helplessly past Emiliano Martínez into the net for the first goal of the night. We became rather unsteady and unconfident after this setback, and did not create the play needed to equalise the scores.
To tell the truth, we looked patchy and indecisive, and on the sixty-ninth minute, another hammer blow to our ever-shaky confidence appeared. Incredibly, and unfortunately for us, it was another deflection that led us to be two down in this match. Just inside our penalty area, Selim Amallah’s shot caught the unlucky Konstantinos Mavropanos and yet again the ball took a different direction from what was expected by Emiliano Martínez and in the blink of an eye we were two down with twenty minutes left on the clock.
Our substitutes suddenly became technically important; Gabriel Martinelli for Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Calum Chambers replacing Ainsley Maitland-Niles meant that we were able to change the direction of the game in our favour. Nine minutes after going two down, Alexandre Lacazette scored a superb header from a Bukayo Saka cross, and then suddenly we were back in the match again. And so, three minutes later, with just nine minutes of the match remaining, Bukayo Saka, surely the Arsenal man of the match tonight, equalised the scores with an excellent right-footed shot; in another time and place, this goal would have been worthy of a trophy victory. But tonight, it enabled us to hold our heads high and head back to North London with a well-deserved draw.
Overall, this was truly a character-building match, with our young players showing what they were made of in difficult circumstances indeed. Make no mistake about it, it was great to come away from Belgium with a draw, when at times, quite frankly, we looked in trouble. It was a shame that we had to go two behind for us to wake up, spark up and drag something out of this match by the scruff of the neck. We will have more idea of how we are progressing when we host the Premiership champions on Sunday afternoon. All this and Christmas too. Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, stick with the winners. Our next match: Manchester City at The Emirates on Sunday, 15th December 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.


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