Limping along in the Europa
Arsenal 0-0 Sporting Lisbon
When Arsene Wenger finally departed at the end of last season the question on every Arsenal fans mind was a big fat WHO? When the announcement landed via the Oracle that is David Orstein at the BBC it took everybody by surprise, after weeks of speculation surrounding Mikel Arteta and a spurious link to Patrick Viera and Thierry Henry the club threw us all a curve ball in the shape of Unai Emery. Now this wasn't a case of 'Arsene Who?' some dodgy looking professor bloke from Japanese football, Emery had pedigree and particularly in the Europa league having won it three times so you could see why they opted for the known rather than the unknown that Mikel was. Given Arsenal's slide over the last 10 years from a contender, to a contender for the top four down to a club fighting for 5th it's was obvious why Unai was chosen given how difficult it is to climb that ladder in the Premiership. Add to that the shiny carrot at the end of the Europa League stick being a route back to the promised land of Champions League Football it's no surprise that qualifying early for the next stages is paramount and key to Emery's thinking.
Arsenal: Cech, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding, Jenkinson, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Smith Rowe, Iwobi, Mkhitaryan, Welbeck
Now at this stage I'm not going to spend too much time on the game itself, the fact the other result in the group, Vorksla 0-1 Qarabag meant just a draw for Arsenal at home to Sporting was enough to qualifiy pretty much sums up the display. 0-0 which left me feeling nothing other than relief I severed the chance to watch this one live!
There were a few highlights via TV however...
1) Seeing Smith Rowe put in a very professional shift as a Number ten - this boy has a big big future.
2) Watching Arron Ramsey being given the job as a holding midfielder whilst 'the kid' got to create in the Welshman's preferred role. Those are the breaks when you don't commit Mr Welsh Messi!
3) The Sokratis and Holding partnership, finally a chance to see our best two centre backs this season on the pitch at the same time. Sorry Mustafi, it's the bench for you next time out.
4) Guendouzi, spraying the ball around and running that midfield.
5) Watching Jenkinson 'living the dream' again, albeit on the left hand side, which kind of negates any crossing ability.
Well I can't go on without mentioning poor Danny Welbeck. When he want up with the keeper in the 25th minute, it just felt like another 'nearly moment' for the English International. Sadly as the stretcher and oxygen came on it soon became apparent the situation was a lot more serious. The look on young Guendouzi's face pretty much said it all..
Thats genuine concern right there and you could see how it effected the players for the rest of the match. You've got to feel for Danny Welbeck, his career plagued by injury, two serious knee ops and a now broken ankle for a bloke who appears to be a real 'good guy' of football and someone the youngsters at the club really look up to. When you also look at Welbeck's contract situation being as perilous as Ramsey's you do wonder how much more playing time he will get now until the end of the season. Is it now time for Eddie Nkiteha? or maybe a call to Hoffenheim and certain Mr Nelson?
The injuries didn't stop there I'm afraid, Just as Eddie was stripped and waiting for a chance to nick a winner out experienced (old) right back went down with a 'hammy'.
This meant a re-think by Emery and he instead sent on Maitland Niles. Now obviously I can see the logic in this but for me, with 20 mins to go against a team that was just sitting, I would have moved Ramsey over there and given Eddie a run out. Still, nothing much really changed end the game ended with a whimper, albeit a qualifying whimper!
No player ratings for this one but a special mention to Smith Rowe and Guendouzi, our midfield future looks pretty awesome!
Next up it's Wolves at home and a chance to get 3 points, if Arsenal play anywhere near the level they did against Liverpool, it should be a hatful!