A day that started with “Ozil – Emery” relations taking the center stage ahead of the Europa League fixture against Portuguese side Vitoria, ended in a last minute escape from humiliation. Arsenal needed every big name they had on the bench to salvage something. In the midst of desperation, up stepped the 72 million man to be counted as he curled two wonderful free kicks past Silva to give Arsenal a victory that they hardly deserved just 2 minutes shy of full time whistle.
At the end, Nicolas Pepe was undoubtedly the hero of the night and Arsenal left the pitch in celebratory mode. The coach looked like he had pull the greatest tactical masterclass of the century with his team sitting firmly on top their group.
But things were remarkably different when the teams left the pitch at half time.
Arsenal were trailing by 2 goals to 1 and appeared clueless and devoid of ideas. The Gunners had only 1 shot on target in first half from which Gabriel Martinelli scored with a header. But either side of this goal, Vitoria dominated the Emirates in a way hardly anyone has done in group stages ever since Arsenal dropped down into Europa League. This was after all a team who was yet to score a goal in Europe this season and only this month got knocked out from their domestic cup by a semi professional side.
Vitoria were the early protagonists as time after time their midfield was able to pick Arsenal pockets and surge into attack with clever passes. Their intent was evident when an attacker turned Holding and fired at goal, drawing a save from Martinez. They were quickly ahead when another attack down their right found former Spurs youth, Marcus Edwards, in the box who, first dummied, then calmly shot past Martinez to send shock waves around Emirates.
While Vitoria continued to threaten, it was Arsenal who pulled level via Martinelli who guided a Tierney cross down and away from the keeper. But the Portuguese were again able to put their heads in front when they latched on to another unconvincing attempt to play out from the back. Maitland-Niles was caught in possession and Bruno turned the ball into the net after it diverted off the post into his path.
Arsenal’s best moments came from Smith Rowe who was the only player who could held his head up high in first half. He gave a kind of performance that was reminiscent of the man who has been pushed out so vocally by the Spaniard. He was everywhere but often dropping between lines and initiating our forward movements from there.
Boos and sarcastic chants
Arsenal left the pitch at half time amid boos and sarcastic chants among which was ‘We’ve Got Ozil’. In second half, Ceballos and Guendouzi came on and Arsenal looked to dominate and put pressure on Vitoria but the Portuguese side would lie low, then spring forward on the counter and create chances. Fortunately for Arsenal they were unable to convert those into their third goal.
Arsenal enjoyed large portions of possession but were unable to do anything with it. Even Pepe, who had replaced the rather ineffective Lacazette, failed to put himself in the kind of positions in which he becomes a danger. But, eventually, the Ivorian showed his quality is not the issue but rather the system in which he is playing. He is now scoring from the rare high probability situations this team presents him. Note that all his three goals to date have been from set pieces. I wonder what he can do if he is playing in right system under right coach because he is not getting either at Arsenal.
Despite ESR having two good chances in either half from open play and should have scored, the salient fact is Vitoria out-created and out-shot us on our own patch. Had it not been for the late tactical rebellion by Guendouzi and the coming to life by Pepe, the game ended with a far different picture painted than the gloom and sorrow that threatened for much of the evening.
Another great escape by Arsenal from a horrible start and long periods of being outplayed by arguably an inferior team. How long can Arsenal sustain these positive results despite major periods of poor performances? Only time will tell.