Arsenal 0 – 0 Sporting Clube
A short while after the final whistle, Qarabag’s win in Poltava confirmed Arsenal’s progress to the knockout stages. Not quite assured of top spot with three more points needed to confirm that position thanks to the head-to-head results with Sporting. Thanks to Danny Welbeck’s late goal in Lisbon.
The ‘Welbeck Express’ the Portuguese media labelled him after that performance. For very different reasons, Welbeck cast a big shadow over last night’s proceedings as well. Twenty-six innocuous minutes passed when he crumpled on landing from meeting a cross. Immediately, he required assistance and the faces of players around him, etched with concern, told the story.
For some, it was the first time of seeing someone suffer; Mateo Guendouzi’s face is the image carried in the morning papers. For others, painful and unwanted memories returned.
Post-match, Unai Emery reflected on the injury suffered:
He’s a very good person. His commitment with us is very big. He’s helped us with his behaviour, with his quality and his capacity. It’s a very big injury for him, for us, for all people who like and love him as a person.
From there, the match took on a subdued demeanour. Sporting weren’t adventurous to begin with and withdrew even more into their shell. The stats record they failed to manage a shot on target in either of the matches.
I only recall Cech leaping through the air to claim a cross and putting his boot through the ball in a match where he was a spectator. We probably charged him admission, self-sustaining and all that.
Emery was under no illusions on why the match became instantly forgettable. Welbeck’s injury impacted on the players and while they got on with the job, it was never far from the front of their minds.
Good For You
The question of what the club does next will, I guess, be determined by the extent of his injury. Under Arsène, humanity in a cut-throat business was the order of the day. Were he in charge, Welbeck’s scrawl on a new contract would be obtained as he left the pitch.
But now? It’s a test if he is out for the season. The initial speculation – not from club sources – was that it was months on the sidelines. A year’s extension to ease the troubled mind of a player?
His departure from the pitch saw Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang introduced to the fray. A shot which brushed the frame of the goal while his burst of pace induced Jeremy Mathieu to trip him as he bore down on Sporting penalty area.
A comforting arm from Emery underlined how integral the centre-back had been in subduing Arsenal. In keeping with the tone of the match, Aubameyang skied the free-kick harmlessly over the bar. Of course, he did; there was no other outcome this match demanded.
Other than another injury. Stephan Lichtsteiner galloped down the wing and his hamstring twanged. The reverberations continued as his momentum hopped through a few more paces. He will be assessed on Friday suggesting it wasn’t as serious as first thought. I’m sure the injury update will have him out for “three weeks”.
At this point, you can tell there isn’t much beyond Welbeck’s injury to write about the game. He missed 70 games with his last serious injury, I read somewhere. A season’s worth of football. Hopefully, it’s not that bad this time around.
Emil Smith Rowe did well in midfield, advanced as the #10 in a 4-4-1-1. Given licence to patrol the flanks as well, his performance continues his trajectory to the first team on a regular basis.
Blown A Wish
The choice of line-up was surprising to the extent that victory assured us of top spot. It was a Carabao Cup team which in the end did a job for Emery. The suggestion is that the team which faced Liverpool was knackered. Given the poverty of their performance in Belgrade, it’s hard to argue with that assessment.
Wolves on Sunday, however, is always the priority in this situation. The Premier League is the bread and butter, and we have two more extremely winnable games remaining in the Europa League.
Looking at the Champions League, none of the teams dropping down will give us huge problems in the next round. Tottenham and Liverpool, the likeliest candidates in that sense, will wait until the latter stages as they pursue ignominious departures from the Champions League.
Imagine opening a new stadium and seeing the first European tie against MOL Vidi. It really is the gift which keeps on giving.