Sokratis Papastathopoulos 7/10, Danny Welbeck injured as Arsenal play out stalemate vs. Sporting
LONDON -- Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw by Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, but that was enough to qualify them for the Europa League knockout stage. The game was overshadowed by Danny Welbeck suffering a potentially serious lower-leg injury in the first half, with the striker carried off on a stretcher after collapsing in pain. Images showed Welbeck's right ankle bent at an unnatural angle, and he immediately waved for medical attention as he writhed on the ground.
Otherwise there was little of note in a game that lacked clear-cut chances, with substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang coming closest to breaking the deadlock when he hit the crossbar shortly after the break. Arsenal could have clinched the group win with a victory but the draw was enough to secure advancement after Qarabag beat FC Vorskla 1-0 in the other game in Group E.
This was by far the most forgettable game of Unai Emery's Arsenal reign so far, although the good news is that the Gunners once again looked rock solid at the back. That was partly due to Sporting's lack of attacking threat, but it's hard to remember a visiting team that didn't create at least one dangerous chance at the Emirates.
And qualifying for the knockout stage with two games to spare, Emery will be able to rotate even more going forward, although the Spaniard still wants to clinch the group win.
Welbeck's injury cast a pall over the entire match and will make it difficult to celebrate the early advancement. The England forward has had terribly bad luck with injuries since joining Arsenal, with two separate knee surgeries wiping out much of the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons. Now he could be facing another lengthy spell on the sidelines, which could have a wider impact on his career as well. Welbeck's Arsenal contract expires next summer and he has yet to be offered a new deal. If the worst fears are confirmed, it remains to be seen whether he will don an Arsenal shirt again.
Manager rating out of 10
5 -- Emery opted to give stars like Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette the night off and Arsenal clearly lacked cutting edge going forward. His options off the bench were severely limited by injuries but for once he couldn't find a way to make the team improve in the second half.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Petr Cech, 6 -- Didn't have a save to make but played well with his feet and was quick to intercept a dangerous cross in the second half
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 6 -- Another solid game for the veteran, although like Arsenal's other defenders he didn't have too much to worry about. Pulled up with an apparent hamstring problem which could add to Arsenal's injury woes at the back.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 -- Broke up several possible Sporting attacks by intercepting balls high up the pitch and showed again that he is a great reader of the game.
DF Rob Holding, 6 -- Hardly set a foot wrong but wasn't really tested by the Sporting strikers. One of the easiest clean sheets of his Arsenal career.
DF Carl Jenkinson, 5 -- Had to fill in at left-back again and managed fairly well defensively, but his weaker left foot let him down when trying to join in the attack. Showed plenty of passion, though.
MF Matteo Guendouzi, 6 -- Helped Arsenal control the midfield battle and tried to push forward in attack when the opportunity presented itself. Did well to set up Welbeck for the best chance of the first half.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 6 -- Put in a good shift defensively, with a couple of well-timed tackles just as Sporting looked likely to threaten. But once again failed to prove Arsenal wrong in their decision to rescind his contract offer.
MF Alex Iwobi, 5 -- A largely frustrating night for Iwobi who always tried to take on defenders and make something happen but couldn't put the finishing touches on any of his moves. Too many wayward shots, crosses and passes in key moments.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 5 -- A familiar story for the Armenian, who once again struggled to get any reward for his efforts in the attacking third. Hasn't scored since the third game of the season and badly needs a goal to boost his confidence.
MF Emile Smith Rowe, 6 -- Another promising display by the 18-year-old, but like his teammates he couldn't quite apply the final touch in attack.
FW Danny Welbeck, 6 -- Had looked lively and dangerous before suffering yet another injury blow. Nearly scored with a clever backheel but the ball was cleared off the line.
DF Sead Kolasinac, 6 -- Provided more of an attacking threat than Jenkinson and delivered a couple of good crosses into the box.
FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 5 -- Didn't bring his scoring boots today as his finishing was unusually wayward. Hit the crossbar early in the second half and spurned a couple of decent half-chances after that.
DF Ainsley Maitland-Niles, N/R -- Replaced the injured Lichtsteiner at right-back for the last 15 minutes, showing his versatility once again.