Arsenal going through their Pacers
Sporting Lisbon 0-1 Arsenal
Spursday night football returned with a 5.45 K.O. and a trip to sunny Portugal as Arsenal took on Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League. Getting excited about this competition in this early stages is tough, as much as it's fun to watch Arsenal take on some outfit from the back-end of Europe playing in pink with a unicorn club crest, it's only when they come across meatier challenges against competition of genuine pedigree or history that my interest gets peaked. Now that's not to say that Sporting Lisbon are some sort of Barcelona, but they are a traditional top three club in Portugal, with a massive support base and an impressive history in Europe, so this game had all the hallmarks of a 'proper test' for a team on a 10 match winning streak.
Arsenal travelled with a strong squad and all the usual suspects, but with concerns surrounding injuries to full backs, lifetime Gooner Carl Jenkinson got a call up as cover.
A guy really living the dream, only still at the Emirates because an injury put a stop to a move in the Summer. I for one really hoped he'd get on at some stage.
The team when announced only threw up one real surprise, with Unai Emery opting to continue with the Xhaka experiment at Left back. I must admit to smiling a bit inside; how the Swiss International must hate the fact he's being sacrificed whilst Guendouzi gets to roam the midfield in his place. Ramsey captain and our Carl warming the bench, maybe, just maybe... 5 minutes to go. He could only dream!
Arsenal: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Holding, Sokratis, Xhaka, Elneny, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Welbeck, Mkhitaryan, Aubameyang
The Arsenal slow starts are a genuine 'thing' these days - it's hard to work out why it keeps happening, or why after half-time and a word from the manager Arsenal seem to go up a few gears. Lack of focus from the players? Check out the twitter feed from Arsenal.com before K.O. - just young lads having a laugh before the match, or over confident players going through the motions?
IMO obviously, but maybe the problem runs a bit deeper.
This is going to be quick!
The first half was a scrappy affair; plenty of Arsenal possession without really creating much and Sporting being sporting and allowing Arsenal the ball. At the other end trying to feast on sloppy mistakes by Xhaka, Guendouzi and Mkhitaryan with pot shots. Sokratis got lucky on 32 mins pulling back on the shirt of a Lisbon player through on goal, the ref (who must have been Spanish) deciding there was 'nothing to see here'...
Really got away with one there, should have been an early bath for our Greek god.
There were further weak attempts from Arsenal, with Welbeck trying to force his way into the box and Aubameyang with a free kick which never troubled the keeper. With Elneny and Guendouzi in midfield you have the Ying and Yang of one guy who wants to play safe, with a younger guy who wants to go for it. The trouble with Arsenal in the first half was they were way to Yinggy! Too safe, the old 'hand-brake metaphor' - or maybe just too 'Wenger'.
No changes from Unai at half-time but whatever he said seemed to do the trick...
Unai: So guys, you play third gear now, yes?
Guys: Ok Boss!
The passing was quicker, there was more intensity, more movement and better decision making. On 58 minutes Unai gave up on Elneny and decided to throw on Torriera making Arsenal 10% better instantly and creating that balance the midfield was missing. Must admit to wanting to see more of the Torriera/Guendouzi show this weekend. Welbeck had the goal in the net on 68 mins with a header, but was ruled to have committed a foul. But he wasn't to be denied ten minutes later when Torreira fed Aubameyang with a pacy pass; he flicked it on, the Lisbon keeper ought to have done better, and saw the ball roll behind him into the path of Welbeck, who took a touch and rifled the ball home from inside the box.
1-0 to The Arsenal!
Lacazette and Iwobi got on the pitch late; sadly for Jenks his 'dream-like cameo' never came to life, it was just splinters for our Carl. The match slowly faded away, with Sporting huffing and puffing but not blowing any houses down. Game over.
Positives: That's legs 11! The performance might have been drab and lifeless in places, but you can't argue with momentum!
Negatives: That first half, I feel Arsenal are hurtling towards a game at home to Liverpool on Nov 3rd and I'm not seeing any improvement in how they start. It's a worry!
Leno: Looked assured and distributed well, never really troubled. 7/10
Lichtsteiner: Struggled first half, improved a bit in the second with some good crosses. 6/10
Holding: Defends well for 10 mins then has a 'moment' - generally positive though. 7/10
Sokratis: One scary moment, but forming a good partnership with Holding. 6/10
Xhaka: Doesn't like being RB, but is doing a job for the team! 7/10
Elneny: Way too safe for me. 5/10
Guendouzi: Positive, doesn't always come off but he is only 19 so can be forgiven for lapses. 7/10
Ramsey: Hardly a Captain Fantastic performance. Ozil starts for me against Palace. 6/10
Welbeck: Worked hard and could have had a hat-trick, but that's Danny for you! MOM 8/10
Mkhitaryan: I struggle to see what position he plays, flickers in and out of games. 6/10
Aubameyang: Didn't do anything special to make him the front guy against Palace. 6/10
Torreira: Showed why he's needed in that midfield, classy cameo. 7/10
Lacazette: Ran around a lot. 6/10
Iwobi: Recovered from his 'whack in the gonads' to complete an uneventful 9 mins. 6/10
Next up Palace away, confidence should be high (for the second half at least).