Daily Archives: March 17, 2023
Final Result: Arsenal 1-1 Sporting CP (Xhaka 19′ | Goncalves 62′)
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Ramsdale; Tomiyasu (White 9′), Saliba (Holding 21′), Gabriel, Zinchenko; Jorginho (Partey 65′), Xhaka; Nelson (Saka 66′), F. Vieira (Odegaard 100′), Martinelli; G. Jesus (Trossard 46′)
Following the pulsating 2-2 draw at Lisbon, the stage was set for what was going to be a thriller, and Arsenal gaffer, Mikel Arteta, made some changes to the squad that ran riot against Fulham over the weekend. Takehiro Tomiyasu came in for Ben White in right back, Jorginho returned to the fray with Thomas Partey rested. In midfield, Fabio Vieira and Reiss Nelson got the nod ahead of Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, while Gabriel Jesus made his first start in four months ahead of the hattrick of assists hero, Leandro Trossard.
The first notable highlight of the game was Tomiyasu leaving the pitch due to injury after he hyper-extended his knee in an attempted tackle on Francisco Trincao. It looked innocuous at the onset but after spending time with the physios, it was evident that his night was over. Sporting CP drew first blood when Trincao waltzed his way from the right and fashioned a chance for himself, curling a good effort that missed by a lick of paint. However, Arsenal scored the all-important match opener when Jorginho located Gabriel Martinelli with a peach of a pass. The Brazilian bore down on goal from the left like he did against Leicester, but his shot was parried by Antonio Adan in the Sporting CP goal. Captain of the night, Granit Xhaka, latched on the parried effort and smashed in a rebound that went past the goalie to the Sporting CP net.
Arsenal’s joy from the goal was somewhat short-lived, as William Saliba had to be subbed for Rob Holding due to injury. Saliba has been immense all season long, so losing him now will be a very bitter pill to swallow. We hope it was precautionary as the defender was clearly in some discomfort and signaled to be substituted.
Arsenal had a chance to go two goals up when Gabriel Jesus showed great movement to evade his markers and fire a goal-bound shot, but Adan made a superb save on his near post. Late on, Sporting CP almost leveled the tie when Manuel Ugarte saw Aaron Ramsdale off his line, but his drilled effort ricocheted off a player to go wide. Based on recommendations from the medical team, or just a tactical switch, Arteta felt that Gabriel Jesus had run his race for the night and brought on Trossard as a half time sub.
Early in the second half, Sporting CP got the equalizer from one of the most audacious goals you’d ever see. Jorginho and Xhaka attempted a one-two in the center circle with Jorginho failing to connect with the loose ball from Xhaka. Paulinho, who wasn’t having any joy in Arsenal’s box, won the ball from Jorginho in the Arsenal half and passed it to Pedro Goncalves. The young Portuguese has already scored 16 goals this season and is full of confidence, but it still takes some stuffing to attempt what he did. See Ramsdale way off his line, Goncalves launched a fantastic lofted surface-to-goal piledriver that floated in the air before dipping under the cross bar to hit the back of the net.
It’s the kind of goal that gets nominated for a Puskas Award, and sadly, Arsenal were on the receiving end of it.
The home side’s confidence was rattled by conceding such a goal, Sporting CP had the wind in their sails, with Paulinho guiding his header from a corner kick over the cross bar. With Sporting CP clearly on the ascendancy, Arteta looked to gain a stronghold of the game and brought on the duo of Saka and Partey. As expected, Partey brought stability to the middle of the park while Saka became a thorn in the flesh of the Sporting CP defenders.
With Arsenal pushing to get the match winner, there was some vulnerabilities at the back and a through ball to Marcus Edwards with Holding no where in sight saw the young North London lad go one on one with Ramsdale, but his shot smashed Ramsdale on the face for a corner kick. 90 minutes wasn’t enough to settle the contest and extra time beckoned.
Arsenal had a big chance to settle the contest when a terrible past for Youssef Chermiti put Trossard through, but he fired his shot on an onrushing Adan, who tipped the ball to the woodwork, before a Sporting CP defender cleared the ball. Odegaard came on for the ineffectual Vieira to add some impetus to the Arsenal attack, and the home side went for the jugular but didn’t draw blood. Three set pieces in quick succession ensued, with Holding nodding Saka’s corner over the bar, and Gabriel attacking the ball twice with goal-bound headers but Adan was on hand to make more important saves.
With both teams failing to settle the contest in 120 minutes, we had to go to the lottery of the penalty shootout, and all honesty, I wasn’t too confident, bearing in mind that Adan had a stromer, and the nerves could get the better of the youngins in the club. The fact that Sporting CP started the kicks and played them close to their own fans didn’t help as well.
Jeremiah St. Juste blasted the opener past Ramsdale, before Odegaard side-footed his own spot kick to the far corner, sending the goalie the wrong way. Ricardo Esgaio had too much power in his penalty which was to hot for Ramsdale, before the starboy, Saka, came on and confidently dispatched his past Adan. Both takers for the third spot kick had nervy moments, with Ramsdale getting a hand, albeit a weak one, to Goncalo Inacio’s penalty, and Trossard’s own kick just crept beyond Adan.
Then came the fourth spot kicks. Artur Gomes’ penalty was quite poor, but it somehow found its way under Ramsdale to make it 4-3. Martinelli stepped up, bounced the ball for God knows how long, dropped it on the spot and side-footed a poor ball that was parried by Adan.
This meant that Nuno Santos, scorer of that amazing rabona goal against Boavista over the weekend, had a chance to put his name in the tabloids as a hero in Lisbon. The Baldie dropped the ball on the spot and absolutely smashed it past Ramsdale to make it 5-3. This is the second competition that this Arsenal side is crashing out on home turf, with Brighton defeating the Gunners before the World Cup at the Carabao Cup’s first hurdle.
The manager spoke about the rued misses in the game in his post-match presser, and stated that Martinelli will bounce back from his penalty losing anguish, like Saka did in the European Championships finals last summer. He also touched on the injuries suffered in the contest, and while Tomiyasu’s own would probably be long term, Saliba might be available for selection against Crystal Palace.
As Odegaard clearly stated, we have 11 finals to play in the Premier League, starting with Crystal Palace at home this weekend. In as much as I’d have loved to go all the way in the Europa League, losing out now, brings clarity to the season, as stated by the gaffer, Arteta.
“It’s a huge blow, but it brings clarity to the season. It’s 11 games to play for, 11 Premier League games, and a big final against Crystal Palace. The focus has to be there, the energy has to be there and learn from tonight.”
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