Sporting Review: A Familiar Refrain

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.

’til Tomorrow.

34 thoughts on “Sporting Review: A Familiar Refrain

  1. Thanks, Yogi. I agree with your assessment entirely. Sporting didn’t have the quality or sense of coherence or urgency on the night to extract a special performance from us, so professional was all that was on the menu.

    I also think Holding is showing some really exciting qualities, in his completely British, understated way. That thumping tackle he delivered, leaving his opponent in a heap while he moved on to follow play was a foretaste, I’m hoping, of a seriously rugged, positionally sharp centre back, next to whom Emery can happily deploy Sokratis or whoever we get to replace Mustafi. And his absurd yellow for elbowing their forward while jumping for a ball was one of multiple examples of the massively experienced ref’s night of weird decisions.

    And I was fascinated to monitor my in-game, minute-by-minute anxietometer when the ball was in midfield. With Elneny or Ramsey on the ball it tended to spike, but Guendouzi kept me in the normal range (for a Gooner watching any match in the recent era, that is). When Torreira came on, however, I flatlined completely. That pairing is a joy to watch.

  2. It was quite a surreal atmosphere as the teams came out.
    The home crowd were not there, not ready, lots of traffic and work problems apparently. But they had NO volume.
    Our fans were there, and in full voice. I remember in Monaco, in order to not have hrh unsettled by our noise, they had Counter noise blasted at our corner, fully orchestrated.
    Lisbon ,once supporters arrived, were pretty noisy, so I guess the organisers didn’t feel the need.
    Thankfully Emery and the Players would have enjoyed the early songs

  3. Emery has got the team on a roll. Long may it continue.

    Madrid will be fishing for Pochettino again shortly. Will he be able to turn them down a second time? Doubt it. Perfect storm brewing.

  4. Full credit for me goes to 3 players: Leno, Aubameyang and Welbeck.

    Leno has been superb as the sweeper keeper and with the ball at his feet and distribution but he is starting to convince other supporters of the ability that has made him highly rated in Germany with most thinking he is only behind Neuer and on talent with Ter Stegen. No going back, its Leno and Cech is the #2.

    Aubameyang and Welbeck worked their socks off and were tireless runners and workers. Its a shame they had nobody to create for them so they did it themselves with a little flick and Welbeck under Emery anticipates that superbly and takes the goal even better.

  5. Ramsey has spoken about his contract:

    “Hopefully somebody will come up and tell me why,” he is quoted as saying by The Guardian. “I’ll accept that if there’s a reason. When the time is right, I probably will find out but that hasn’t happened yet.

    “There is no contract on the table at the moment so there is nothing for me to consider or whatever. We all know that the contract was taken away off the table. I’m not sure exactly why because a few weeks before we sort of agreed and I was ready to sign.”

  6. Is that the return to planet ape ,where all those in green fell over and whined at the merest upset? Great suits.

  7. C,

    Oh. I feel for him. He must be a bit confused.
    But there are lessons in life that even footballers need to learn. Let’s hope he doesn’t make the same mistake again. At his next club.
    It would appear ,he has passed the point of no return.
    Thanks for the memories Rambo.

  8. Looks like a trip down to Millwall… savages…

    Is that the return to planet ape ,where all those in green fell over and whined at the merest upset? Great suits.

  9. C,

    I don’t think it was a coincidence that they took the contract off the table, right as we were heavily linked with Almiron and Banega. If we bring them in, i think Ramsey and Mkhytarian are gone in summer. Mkhy for me hasn’t cut it, everyone else seems to be raising their game but he’s really seemed very lacklustre

    I’m impressed with the professional win.

  10. Cheers all, Welbeck saving our bacon again with a good finish. He has popped up a few times already this year with some goals hasnt he? I think we can agree he is a solid rotation player, and he is definitely athletic. He has pace, is bulky, and provides some physicality that is missing in most of our squad.

    We need a real LB pretty soon, Xhaka passed the test but i felt like we were hesitant to attack down the left. I was getting a little frustrated with him playing so far up the pitch as a LWB. He is standing out there like a counter attack waiting to happen and I was yelling, get BACK you beautiful swiss man and stop leaving us so damn exposed. He doesnt have the pace so i would prefer if he kept his winger IN FRONT of him so he can keep good position, not with the toes on the touchline trying to make a run in behind.
    Thanks for the write up YW

  11. Great review YW.

    I thought the first half was off balance because we had Ramsey and Elneny and it seemed like a side from last year and the misplaced pass from Holding to give Nani a shooting chance was the only clear threat and we dealt well with a lot of corners. Even in the absence of a LB we were not exploited on the left and we were more direct after the interval.

    Some folks seemed to accuse Guendouzi of dwelling on the ball for too long, I guess it happened twice, but that’s probably the most significant flaw in his game, compared to Xhaka I still prefer him.

    Ramsey had a full 90 minutes and he was not really influential, 2 through passes from him to PEA, but I remember the moment he seemed to get in the way of an attack which ended with a blocked shot when it could have ended as a goal.

  12. ferkov,

    Yup! Well that and he must also learn to tell his agents to stop sending little jabs at the club on social media.
    Thanks Ramsey and good luck to you

  13. MesutsLeftFoot,

    I do want to see what Mhkitaryan could do as the backup to Ozil. Put him centrally instead of outwide and I think we could get more but both he and Ramsey were disappointing for me last night.

  14. thrillbo,

    As someone said last week, probably turn out to be you. Chilwell ticks the boxes. Except them Foxes tend to be hard bargainers, and his star is in the ascendancy generally. Arsene wouldn’t have bothered trying, but maybe the 3 wise men have new plans.

  15. MesutsLeftFoot,

    Mhyki has not had the most minutes in that starting front three, or in the ten role. So it might be a little harsh to discard just yet. His natural ability on the ball and quality of pass, do certainly add to our style of play and retention abilities.

    His link up play with Auba and Bellerin also, hint at growing his influence in games, becoming more than a periphery figure and making more match winning contributions.

    That said, he is not 22 years of age. More to come, might be a tag, unfitting of a salary and seniority within the squad possibly attained by being part of an Alexis straight swap deal, and some highly leveraged agent work! Which also could mean selling him, may not be waltz.

    I would like to see him, up his game, he seems to possess all the qualities that underpin an Arsenal attacking midfielder. He adds balance to an attack, more adept at dribbling than most in the squad.

  16. Mhki and Ramsey should never be on the same team playing competitive football. I said this earlier in the season, Ramsey seems the least talented of the possible #10 players in our squad. Same applies to Ozil and Mhki, or Ozil and Ramsey, its more like the cutting edge of the team is reduced when 2 of them are on the pitch. Irregardless of 1 being on the wing and 1 being central.

  17. How many times have you all watched the goals v Leicester? I must have watched the third in particular 50 times now. Still all delightful and amazing!

    Poll of ACLFers:
    Most otherworldly Ozil skill v Leicester (in order of occurrence)
    1) cushioned half volley of Bellerin’s whipped cross perfectly in running stride to score of inside post on first goal
    2) almost casual perfectly weighted ball spotting Bellerin run trajectory straight through 4 Leicester defenders taking them out of the play on the second goal
    3) half volleyed, back heel, no look dink from Torreira pass to Guendouzi in build up of 3rd
    4) feint then dummied stepover without ever looking behind to let ball through to Laca and bamboozle Maguire bursting behind and leaving him for dead on return ball in 3rd buildup
    5) stranding Schmeichel with a deft outside of the boot scoop to chip the ball over the keepers outstretched arms and leg to cut the ball perfectly into Auba’s path for the easiest of tap ins on the 3rd.
    Good luck choosing!

  18. LSG,

    Deliciously difficult quiz there, LSG. Front-runners for me ar 1, 2 & 5 and I have to give to 1 simply because its casual brilliance (a) was against the run of first half play – later he was on a roll – and (b) gave us our first goal and the key to the floodgates. For me it brought the biggest roar of relief/exhilaration of the lot.

  19. LSG,

    Hahaha. Funny you should say that.
    I’ve just forced my 6 yr old daughter, who was insisting on sitting on my head to do some gymnastic weirdness off the sofa, to watch it. She loved the full speed versions in the Bitesize, but found the 15 touches music version a bit boring. 3 to Arsenal then daddy. Yes 63 now tho 😂😂😂😂
    1 for me btw. Killed them.

  20. Noon Gunner,

    It is a tough one! 1 was big and very difficult.. 5 was unusual. 4 was hilarious. 3 rather impudent. 2 sublime vision and straightforward creation. I go with 1 or 5.

  21. LSG,

    For me, its easily #1. The others were sublime but it was not only we needed somebody and something to change the way the match was going but the fact that he looked so effortless in eating up space and then an inch perfect pass to Bellerin but the cushion was brilliant and only made even more brilliant by the fact it was casual and he paid no mind to Mhkitaryan who had crumpled over right infront of him.

    Honestly, for me, its what makes Ozil and Ramsey so massively different. Ozil does those things naturally and its so efficient and you marvel at the fact he does it without thinking or wanting to be flashy whereas Ramsey does it and it feels ‘showboaty’ to me.

  22. C,

    Showboaty? That’s a bit OTT. 😬

    No, it is tho. He’s got talent, but not in the same league as Ozil, and so he huffs and puffs, and tries the odd trick ,that he must think he can do, and probably thinks in his minds eye that it looks smooth and silken like mesut. Alas not, clunky and contrived, maybe, but I do think it’s for purpose of surprising the opposition and achieving a goal/ target , rather than making him look good.

  23. ferkov:

    Showboaty? That’s a bit OTT.

    No, it is tho. He’s got talent, but not in the same league as Ozil, and so he huffs and puffs, and tries the odd trick ,that he must think he can do, and probably thinks in his minds eye that it looks smooth and silken like mesut. Alas not, clunky and contrived, maybe, but I do think it’s for purpose of surprising the opposition and achieving a goal/ target , rather than making him look good.

    Mate-sometimes Rambo does do the ‘Hollywood ‘ bollocks when a simple touch would do-so I’m in agreement with C,I think Rambo does go all showboaty.The shame is he’s probably trying to detract from his inability in certain areas of his game.
    If he needed any reason as to why his contract has been withdrawn he only has to look around at the depth of talent in our squad at the moment-he’d be spoilt for choice.

  24. Jonnygunner,

    Aye ,yous both may be right. I can’t say I really recall that many hollywoods, it’s been the simple balls to space , and reading teammates intentions that are his recurring fault for me.
    I’ve said it a few times now, I think Emery wasn’t expecting so many gems in the squad that only needed a bit of a buff to shine , to render Ramsey xs baggage. No one wants to pay for that do they.

    Anyone interested in a Ramsey shirt. Signed!

    C thinks he was bluffing, but why did Emery initially give Ramsey the eyes?
    Doubt we’ll know now. Spreadsheets and £ maybe. An early signature could have got him another year while The 3 wise men decided who to sell. Gazidis departure maybe revealed some £ the others hadn’t figured.

    Fuckin brilliant goal against Fulham tho. Worthy Hollywooding!

  25. C,

    Yes, I should have added degree of difficulty and concentration needed for avoiding Mkh there. Plus I do like how he drove the ball forward and the pass. But those are all separate aspects. If we talk about all that perhaps we should roll 3, 4, 5 all together as part of the 3rd goal. Quite amazing how much he affected that whole build up.

    I do love it when he scores. He should take more shots. Maybe this season he’ll get 10 in the league—that would be super.

  26. Excellent review and interesting posts all round I do think Mustafi has improved and works better with a rock like sokratis or holding than Kos who is similar build/type.

    Totally agree just one on the pitch from Ram/myk and Ozil so with contract situation looks like Myk as back up 10.

    Will Danny re-sign as does seem valuable squad player ?

    Perhaps with Saha we might consider the Leech (credit to who I forget but appropriate) and Bellerin double teaming which would keep him quiet hopefully but still allow some RW activity going forward

    That means PEA on bench again to come on and score his usual brace 😀

  27. C,

    C , here’s something for your skills.
    Gutter blogs here claiming Spuds are in for Almiron.

    More news tho. Comedy Central…… mildly amusing ,but rarely surprising, SpudulikeStadium not open til 2019. No date confirmed either. Just Not.

    Gets a little better. Tho only the one above has any validity in reality, but Real are sniffing at Pochweiler. All in all , Friday nights in with the kids can be quite a laugh.
    Almiron? He back on his feet? Got a passport. Tricky here these days!

  28. Arsetralian,

    Danny ? I hope so.
    Seen the ‘WELE’ poster on twitter? Class .
    He’s been the brunt of a lot of jokes since he’s been with us. I hope he doesn’t let many in. But he’s always done a job ,without being used as a finisher. And still netted a few…how, we won’t mention any more. Coz now,he’s had time to find fitness ,strength ,and form, he’s got new boots and a good head. With Eddie in the wings ,reddy in a year or two,we could do with a solid back up CF. Be tragic to let him go. Another 4 years with a reasonable ge out fee . We can find him a good spot after he’s helped us to some silver. Cum on gents .

  29. Freddie on

    On Maitland-Niles making his return from injury…
    He’s been training for 10 days or two weeks or so now and we were asked by the first team to play him for a few minutes and get him ready. He did well and of course he was a little rusty because he hasn’t played football for a long time, but that’s why he was in the game today, so he could get ready, feel it and keep up with the tempo in the game, so it was nice to have him here.

    For Sunday’s bench? I do hope so.

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