Let’s begin with the excellent news for Unai Emery’s Arsenal. It is now 83 days and 15 matches since they final tasted defeat, with this goalless draw in opposition to an obstinate Sporting confirming their progression to the knockout stages of the Europa League. And but such positives had been utterly overshadowed on a subdued night time when first Danny Welbeck after which Stephan Lichtsteiner suffered severe accidents.
Arsenal by no means had to depart second gear right here and but the 2 accidents sapped all momentum from them, like air speeding out of a balloon. Welbeck’s was significantly unhealthy, the ahead showing to dislocate his ankle earlier than being rushed to hospital. Lichtsteiner then collapsed to the turf round an hour later to add insult to injury.
Sporting have their very own issues, in fact. A fascinatingly balmy membership trapped in a perpetual disaster of 1 sort or one other, they disposed of supervisor Jose Peseiro final week after they misplaced 2-1 at residence to second-tier aspect Estoril, and had been understandably content material to play for a degree right here. They bought it, retaining alive the slim risk of them overhauling Arsenal on the high of the group.
Quite how Arsenal didn’t break the impasse is anyone’s guess, significantly after Jeremy Mathieu was despatched off for a drained late lunge on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with just some minutes remaining. But the ahead ballooned his free-kick over the crossbar, having earlier fired wastefully into the side-netting from shut vary. Henrikh Mkhitaryan additionally had his moments, meandering into the field late on solely to prod a tame shot immediately into Renan Ribeiro’s grateful arms.
This was not to be Arsenal’s night time, one thing signalled by the horrific injury sustained by Welbeck halfway by the first-half. After discovering himself linked with January strikes to each Crystal Palace and Tottenham on this week’s newspapers, Welbeck absolutely thought his week couldn’t get any worse, however it was apparent from the second he tangled legs with Bruno Gaspar that he was in actual bother.
The response of his fellow gamers instructed you every little thing you wanted to know: Matteo Gunedouzi watched on with horror by splayed fingers as an oxygen masks was was slapped over Welbeck’s face, whereas Nani crouched on the turf to console his former Manchester United team-mate. The physios who ran onto the pitch appeared to counsel he had suffered a dislocated proper ankle and, if that’s the case, the remainder of his season is in peril. A leg brace was duly utilized earlier than he was taken to hospital.
The injury sucked what little environment had been tentatively brewing across the stadium and, watching Welbeck being stretchered down the tunnel, it was arduous not to marvel if that is the final we’ll see of him in an Arsenal shirt. Out of contract in the summertime, his newest injury will come as a blow to any potential suitors in addition to England supervisor Gareth Southgate, who had earlier that day named him in his squad for the forthcoming internationals in opposition to the USA and Croatia.
Just two weeks in the past Welbeck was Arsenal’s hero as he cooly slotted residence a late winner in Lisbon; how totally different the circumstances this time round, and what a merciless blow to a participant who has been beating on the door of the first-team having scored 4 instances in his 5 cup outings this season. He had began this match effectively, too, threatening frequently in an thrilling if unlikely strike partnership with Smith Rowe.
This was yet one more night time the place Arsenal’s kids shone brightest. Gunedouzi was despatched off in his final match however didn’t put a foot mistaken right here, spraying through-balls down both flank and repeatedly dropping the shoulder to scuttle into area. Ahead of him Smith Rowe was equally spectacular, an 18-year-old upstart deployed within the liberating central attacking function that Aaron Ramsey craves nearly as a lot as his £300k-a-week.
And but how can Ramsey complain with a deeper function in Arsenal’s engine room when that is how Smith Rowe performs when handed centre stage? The teenager was electrical: repeatedly threatening from distance and gliding into area as if sporting rollerblades, on a regular basis waved ahead by an more and more enthusiastic Emery.
But for all of Smith Rowe’s beguiling flicks and tips, Sporting’s stout rearguard was to maintain agency, even after Mathieu was given his marching orders. The Frenchman departed shortly after Lichtsteiner, who tweaked a hamstring lumbering after a long-ball and can be part of Welbeck on the sidelines.
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