The striker pounced on a Sebastian Coates error and slotted a shot through the keeper’s legs after 77 minutes. Danny Welbeck’s late winner gave Arsenal victory over Sporting Lisbon in Portugal, as they retained their place at the top of Europa League Group E.
Earlier in the second half, Welbeck had a headed goal ruled out after he was judged to have fouled the defender in the build-up. Arsenal have now extended their winning run to 11 games in all competitions.
Gunners patience pays off
After Monday evening’s impressive Premier League win over Leicester, there was plenty of Arsenal optimism, even though they had never beaten a Portuguese side away from home, losing on their past three visits.
The first half seemed to point towards a dreary goalless draw despite the Gunners controlling the possession – with the visitors managing just two tame shots on target before the break – but they ultimately got the result they deserved.
Nani had Sporting’s best chance with a high curling effort after half-an-hour before Arsenal winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s free-kick was punched away by keeper Renan Ribeiro.
But Arsenal picked up their performance slightly in the second half as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was denied twice. His chip was well saved after he had used his pace to get in behind centre-back Coates and he had a shot saved from a wide angle.
Those chances seemed to spark a bit of life into Arsenal and shortly afterwards Matteo Guendouzi’s cutback found Welbeck, only for his close-range shot to be deflected out for a corner. But Arsenal’s determination to turn their 67% possession into a goal eventually paid off.
Welbeck’s form under new boss Unai Emery continues to improve and he has now bagged five goals in 10 appearances this season – including two in the Europa League. Arsenal remain top of the group with nine points from three wins, while Sporting trail in second.
Sporting fall flat
On the whole, the hosts showed little attacking intent – Sporting choosing to defend deep and counter-attack in rare spells.
Full-back Marcos Acuna caused a few problems in the first half for stand-in right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner down the flank, as well as winning a number of corners with some energetic runs through the middle.
There were a few neat touches from former Manchester United winger Nani too but Arsenal never looked like conceding despite manager Emery making six changes to his starting XI.
Lucas Torreira did see a set-piece palmed away before Welbeck’s goal condemned the home side to defeat – but they are still in position to make the knockout stage.
Unconvincing displays from full-backs
Arsenal’s heavy fixtures schedule – which includes three games in seven days – meant Emery was forced to make changes and he will have been delighted it paid off with a win.
However, there were a few nervous moments in the first half as stand-in full-backs Granit Xhaka and Lichtsteiner were thrown in the deep end because of injuries to Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac.
Midfielder Xhaka was beaten by one Nani run in the first half but was backed up by Rob Holding, and he conceded a few fouls for mistimed tackles when out of position.
All-in-all though, Xhaka was fairly solid in comparison to Lichtsteiner, who seemed to struggle in one-on-one situations.
He looked out of his depth and was beaten early on by Sporting full-back Acuna and was lucky not to give away a penalty when he held back Nani in the area before the break.
But he was better going forward and a nice run in behind was picked out by Guendouzi in the first half and after 20 minutes, he was the only Arsenal player to have had a touch in the opposition box.
‘This has been difficult for us’
Arsenal manager Unai Emery: “We are only thinking of the next match against Crystal Palace. We are also enjoying each moment with our supporters. For us, it’s very important that supporters are with us and enjoy it.
“I’m enjoying continuing the work, our process. They have a high demand for us because every match is not easy for us. Historically, this has been very difficult for us and I know this.
“For us, continuing to win is what we want but we know it’s not easy and we can lose. But we need to continue finding the solution for us to be better in the first halves.”
Man of the match – Matteo Guendouzi
Leaving it late – the best of the stats
- Arsenal recorded their 11th successive win in all competitions; their best run of wins since October 2007 (when they won 12 in a row).
- This was Arsenal’s first away win in Portugal after previously failing to triumph in six European visits there (D3, L3).
- Of Arsenal’s 33 goals in all competitions this season, 23 have come in the second half of matches (70%).
- Arsenal have won 11 competitive matches this season – of all Premier League clubs, only Manchester City can equal this tally (also 11).
- This was the first time that Arsenal did not concede a single shot on target in a European match since March 2015, versus Monaco in the Champions League.
- Emery has suffered just one defeat in his 21 group stage games in the Europa League (W12, D8, L1, while at Valencia, Seville and Arsenal).
- Welbeck has been directly involved five goals in his last five starts for Arsenal in all competitions (four goals, one assist).
Source: BBC News