Thursday, May 30, 2024

Arsenal 1-1 Sporting: We lost, but at what cost?

Match reportPlayer ratingsArteta reaction

Arsenal are out of Europe, losing 5-3 on penalties to Sporting after a 1-1 draw and extra time. On our preview podcast, I suggested to Lewis that this would be the worst way to lose, and I stand by that. I never want to lose, but in the context of this season I’d rather it happened in 90 minutes than 120 – especially on a night when we lost two players to injury.

As expected, Mikel Arteta made changes, and he started Gabriel Jesus up front. Aaron Rasmdale came in for Matt Turner, and Bukayo Saka was rested. The visitors got on top in the opening stages of the first half without causing us too many problems, but the loss of Takehiro Tiomyasu on 9 minutes was a blow. The right back seemed to slip and stretch out both knees. He left the stadium last night on crutches, hopefully precautionary, but that’s never a good sign.

We got back into it, started to stress them a little bit, before scoring the opening goal. Jorginho’s incisive pass to Martinelli was excellent, the keeper made a good save – the first of quite a few last night – but Granit Xhaka was there to fire home the rebound and make it 1-0. We barely had time to enjoy going ahead before that was cut short by the sight of William Saliba being substituted for Rob Holding. Oh-oh.

It wasn’t exactly end to end stuff. Jesus looked lively at times, again the keeper was equal to his effort. Zinchenko blocked a shot from Edwards, Ugarte’s effort from outside the box hit Xhaka and fizzed just wide.

At half-time, Arteta had some thinking to do, because having made two subs in the first half, he only had this period and then one more opportunity in normal time to make changes. He played it safe by replacing Jesus with Leandro Trossard, sensibly avoiding a scenario where another injury in the second half might have required the Brazilian to play the full 90 minutes. It’s too soon for that.

To say we were sloppy in that second period was an understatement. Afterwards, I saw a stern faced Arteta bemoan the fact we didn’t win any duels (yikes), and were second to everything. He’s right. It was uncharacteristically careless from us across the board, and ultimately we paid the price for it. We couldn’t keep the ball in midfield, and Pedro Goncalves produced a sensational finish to make it 1-1.

46 yards out, he clipped the ball with almost perfect precision over Ramsdale. I’ve seen criticism of the keeper, and I get it, but we ask him to play a specific way, quite far off his line, which helps us snuff out danger most of the time. On this occasion they took full advantage of that. Put it this way, if an Arsenal player had scored that goal, we’d be talking about the quality of the shot which dipped just under the bar, and not their goalkeeper. Sometimes a goal is a very good goal, and that’s what I think this was. You may disagree, of course, which is absolutely fine.

The introduction of Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka gave us a bit more of a hold in the game, but the biggest chance came for Sporting. Ramsdale made himself big, Edwards shot caught him straight in the face, but it was a good save. The best we conjured up was a Fabio Vieira free kick which the keeper was equal to.

That meant extra-time, and here is where I think we can have some regrets, because we could, and probably should, have won it. A mistake handed a chance to Trossard, but again Adan in the Sporting goal produced an excellent save to tip his effort onto the post. Rob Holding headed just over from a corner when a balder man might have scored; Gabriel threatened twice from corners, one of which again saw Adan make an excellent save, and the other cleared from just off the line. If you had some fears that it wasn’t going to be our night at that point, you weren’t alone, but credit to the Spanish keeper who was basically their man of the match.

Then penalties. They were even enough. Ramsdale almost did enough on a couple, but not quite. Martinelli missed/Adan made a save [choose your preference]. Sporting scored emphatically and they went through. It’s tough to lose at any point, but penalties is particularly so, especially with the chances we had during extra-time.

Afterwards, the manager said:

A huge blow. We really wanted to go through and fight in the competition and go for it. Today, we tried for 120 minutes and the penalties, and it wasn’t enough. First of all, congratulations to Sporting for going through.

We didn’t find our rhythm and our flow. We allowed too many spaces, were late and didn’t win enough duels there. We gave the ball away many, many times. Sometimes time after time. And then the last 20 minutes, we got the flow and the momentum, we got into the final third much more and created three big chances, and we didn’t score. I think when we went to extra-time, we showed incredible energy again and top mentality when it wasn’t our best day to keep going. We had another two big chances, we didn’t win and at the end it comes to the penalties.

In the cold light of day, it becomes easier to rationalise a defeat like this as a fan. With the Premier League challenge the way it is, you can tell yourself that this could be useful. No European football punctuating your week as Man City deal with quality opposition and travel in the Champions League. There ought to be a physical benefit, that’s obvious, and on a night when you’re reminded how quickly a couple of injuries can impact your squad, that’s your silver lining.

It’s never fun to lose though, and obviously those injuries are a potential blow. The Tomiyasu one in particular looks like it could be quite serious, and we’ll keep everything crossed for Saliba. The manager now has to refocus his players, some of whom will be tired from 120 minutes but need to be ready to go again on Sunday. I can’t say I’m absolutely gutted to go out of the Europa League, because in previous campaigns it felt like the be-all and end-all of our season, but we know Arteta wants to instill a winning culture so every defeat should hurt.

However, we simply can’t dwell on it, we’ve got to take the lessons and then consign this to history asap. As Martin Odegaard said afterwards, there are 11 cup finals to play in the Premier League, the first of which is just 48 hours away really, so we have to take stock, recover, then do what we need to do against Crystal Palace.

The right result on Sunday will certainly ease some of this morning’s pain.

As the game went late last night, we’ll be recording an Arsecast for you a bit later this morning. We should have a podcast out mid-morning or thereabouts.

Until then.

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