Sporting Clube de Portugal 0 – 1 Arsenal
Another day, another Arsenal win. Danny Welbeck’s late winner proved the difference between the two sides in the record books but in reality, the gap was much wider. The almost obligatory slow start turned around at the interval and gathered pace with the introduction of Lucas Torreira as the Uruguayan continues to be Unai Emery’s ‘go to guy’.
It was a game of two halves, neither of which had us looking like we were in any particular trouble. The home side’s moments were few and far between. And we improved considerably in the second half. The slow starts concern Unai Emery:
Each match is a very big opportunity to improve things and one thing is this. We spoke in the dressing room before the start of the match today about our objectives. And one objective is this.
We cannot impose our ideas in the first 45 minutes but in the second half, we have the chance and the opportunity to change the result and continue in our way, thinking only to win this match and to improve things in the second half. I think we did that in the 45 minutes of the second half. But we need to continue finding the solution for us to be better in the first halves.Unai Emery on the slow starts
Impressive in his defensive work once again, Rob Holding asked questions of the coach over Sunday’s team selection. With both Mustafi and Sokratis fit, which one will miss out to give Holding his well-earned place in the side?
The Greek proved his worth with some sly and downright blatant use of the dark arts. He somehow avoided a card for denying a scoring opportunity but then this was a referee who backed away from giving popular decisions with the home crowd.
It’s Good to Talk
In many ways, it was a typical European performance. We’ve come to expect the squad to be rotated on these nights although the use of Granit Xhaka was a bit ‘out there’, even by those standards. He rarely looked in trouble and when he did, Holding sidled across to help.
We were comfortable on the ball but not pushing the possession advantage home. Nothing unusual there from a midfield which hasn’t played together that often. But the importance of being Lucas Torreira showed when the diminutive Uruguayan arrived on the pitch.
Mo Elneny pushed forward well in the opening stages but slipped into obscurity as the first half came to a close. The man from Fray Bentos added the missing zip to our passing and energised those around him. It’s hard to say he would have improved the first half performance; he’s been dragged down to that level from kick-off as well. It’s not that the first half performance was bad either. It was just lifeless.
But Emery waved his wand and the players responded. Danny Welbeck in particular, a fine finish through the goalkeeper’s legs made up for having a goal wrongly disallowed for offside.
It was a surprise when the England man made way for Lacazette moment’s after scoring. With Sunday on the horizon, PEA seemed a more obvious candidate, but he lasted a few minutes more before being hooked.
The end result is we’re three points clear at the top of the table with two home games remaining. Our destiny is in our own hands, which is where Emery wants us to be.
Standing in the Shadow of Love
Getting there is a little different. Talk inevitably turned to record-breaking or equalling. Wins through to and including Liverpool, equal George Graham’s record of 14 wins in the pre-title winning year of 1987/88. If things turn out that well, nobody will be unhappy.
Least of all the supporters Emery chose to acknowledge in his press conference.
We are also enjoying each moment with our supporters.
Today we were with them and they were with us, supporters who had come from Arsenal, from London or from here. For us, it’s very important that supporters are with us and enjoy it.Unai Emery on supporters
By and large, I hope they did. I did, overall. It was a professional performance; a good European away performance where we got the job done with a clean sheet and relatively few scares.
Don’t ignore the Sporting home record which was one defeat in the preceding 30-odd games. That was to Barcelona; not to be sniffed at, no matter the disarray they found themselves in last summer.
Onward to Palace on Sunday.