Danny Welbeck injury overshadows Arsenal’s Sporting draw

Striker suffers serious ankle injury as Gunners qualify for knock-out stages

Sporting Lisbon’s Nani grasps the hand of the  injured Danny Welbeck after  the Arsenal striker was stretchered off with  a serious leg injury during the Europa League game at Emirates stadium. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Sporting Lisbon’s Nani grasps the hand of the injured Danny Welbeck after the Arsenal striker was stretchered off with a serious leg injury during the Europa League game at Emirates stadium. Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

 

Arsenal 0 Sporting Lisbon 0

The fearful hush that descended over the Emirates when Danny Welbeck landed in overwhelming pain never really lifted on a challenging night for Arsenal. The Europa League had all been going smoothly, with maximum points and the booster of a win in what always looked like their trickiest assignment in the away match with Sporting. But the mood darkened when Welbeck suffered the latest in a desperately unlucky series of dismal injuries.

The cold statistics of the night were favourable to Arsenal, who still managed to qualify for the knock-out round with two games to spare and managed to extend their undefeated sequence to 15 matches. But this was not an evening that will be remembered with fondness as the fate of Welbeck dominated the mind of everyone associated with Arsenal.

The first half of this game was deeply impacted by the horrendous injury suffered by Welbeck. It was one of those moments which in an instant altered the mood inside the ground. Up until then a promisingly high-tempo European performance was taking shape. Immediately after a soberness took hold as everybody watched Welbeck suffering on the pitch and in need of serious medical attention. The Arsenal forward had jumped up for a header to meet Stephan Lichtsteiner’s lofted cross but his ankle was crushed horribly as he landed.

In distress, and in need of oxygen, the stricken forward left the pitch on a stretcher. His team-mates looked shaken by the sight. Aaron Ramsey, who has experience of dreadful breaks of his own, showed understandable emotion. Mattéo Guendouzi, still in his teens and making his way in the game, was visibly upset. Welbeck is tremendously popular as well as being valued for what he brings to the squad and it was immensely worrying for a player who has suffered more than his fair share of serious injuries, with entire seasons ravaged having sustained major damage to both his knees.

Refocusing on a match in such a difficult situation is not easy, and Arsenal mislaid the zip with which they had started the match. It was a challenge to reset minds on the task in hand at half-time but Unai Emery had to try to manage the situation looking at a bigger picture.

The intention to try to secure qualification for the knock-out round of the Europa League still needed attention. Until Welbeck’s injury Arsenal had started by pressing notably high up the pitch, sensing there might be some vulnerability to exploit in a Sporting team under new management as of last week.

The strategic changes Emery is trying to evolve are evident in the way such a heavily rotated team began with a similar positive energy to the more established selection, trying to force pressure on the visitors from Lisbon.

Welbeck had been in the mix during Arsenal’s best chance of the first half. Arsenal worked a promising move in the 18th minute when Guendouzi burst towards the byline to cut the ball back for Welbeck, only for Jérémy Mathieu to send the ball squirming towards the goal. Sebastián Coates recovered to hoick it off the line.

Seconds after the restart, Welbeck’s replacement, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang rattled the crossbar with an instinctive strike and a few minutes later his shot skimmed the side-netting.

Sporting also gave themselves some encouragement – they broke to create their first moment of danger. Abdoulay Diaby’s acrobatic volley crashed against Carl Jenkinson. Sporting’s large contingent of support chanted relentlessly. Their team began to snap into tackles and run hard for the win that would cancel out Arsenal’s victory in Lisbon two weeks ago, where Welbeck scored the match-winner, which put them top of Group E.

Arsenal tried to find their rhythm but the beat was slightly off. The passing centred around Guendouzi, Emile Smith Rowe, Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the final ball was missing a fraction of precision. It didn’t help that they went through a range of full backs during the game, so support from wide positions lacked the necessary cohesion.

With 10 minutes to go Alex Iwobi jinked into the box and flashed a pass in for Mkhitaryan, bouncing off the Armenian before he properly noticed it and safely into the arms of Renan Ribeiro in the Sporting goal. A minute later Aubameyang saw a glimmer snatched away by a defensive clearance as he loitered in hope of a shot. With three minutes left the Gabonese raced through and was clipped just outside the area by Mathieu, who was red-carded for his troubles. It was a clear goalscoring opportunity denied, and Aubameyang could not find his range from the free kick, scooping over the crossbar. - Guardian

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