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The goal in the knock-out rounds of any tournament is not to get knocked out. In that regard, we failed to achieve our goal on a wet Thursday in N5. Sporting Lisbon won the first competitive penalty shootout at the Emirates, 5-3, after our Europa League Round of 16 second leg had ended 1-1 after extra time, with the aggregate score at 3-3.

The result makes moot one of the questions that 21st Century Gooner so succinctly posed in his excellent preview: should we prioritise the Premier League title, last won in 2004, over European silverware, last won in 1994? 

It does not, yet, provide an answer to his other salient question, might the pursuit of the Europa League trophy adversely impact our run-in for the Premier League title, a trophy most in this estimable establishment and the wider Goonerverse would consider the essential piece of silverware that the manager should be lifting at season’s end?

Elimination from the Europa League might be thought to tilt the balance to the positive side—fewer games to tax a young squad still learning how to pace themselves to the winning line. Yet, our first big European night at the Ems in three years (group games do not really count) tipped the scales in the other direction. 

Among the negatives, Tomiyasu and Saliba were both lost to injury in the first 20 minutes; an additional half-hour of extra time will have only further drained legs that we shall need fresh on Sunday for the league visit of Palace, legs already wearied by an energy-sapping game played at high pace with Sporting pressing and counter-pressing with intensity and scrapping for every second ball; and the emotional exhaustion of defeat in a game in which we were second best for most of the time but nearly pulled off another last-gasp victory, only to be denied in extra time by three outstanding saves by Sporting’s keeper, Adan.

By naming a strong team, Arteta answered the pre-match speculation about how seriously he would/should take the Europa League. Having called out the defensive performance in the first leg, he started all the first-choice defenders save for Ben White, returning him (briefly, as it happened), Matt Turner and Jakub Kiwior to the bench. 

As Arteta had also highlighted the lack of midfield control in Lisbon in the face of Sporting’s press, it was a slight surprise to see our master controllers, Thomas Partey and Martin Ødegaard, both start on the bench. Yet Arteta’s cunning plan was to counter Sporting’s 3-4-3 and midfield overloads with a 4-4-2. Midfield duties were assigned to Reiss Nelson, Jorginho, Granit Xhaka and Fabio Vieira, with two of Arteta’s collection of Gabis, Jesus and Martinelli, upfront. This selection promised to morph into the more accustomed 4-3-3 when we were attacking and allowed Bukayo Saka to put his feet up on the bench for a much-deserved and needed rest.

For Sporting, there were two changes from the first leg, Ousmane Diomande and Manuel Ugarte coming in for suspended captain Sebastian Coates and Hidemasa Morita in defence and midfield, respectively.

With the score level pegging at 2-2 from the first leg and away goals no longer counting double, both sides knew they needed to win.

I will not relay a blow-by-blow account. Suffice it to say Sporting settled the faster, pressing hard and preventing us from establishing any rhythm. We struggled to string passes together or to hold onto the ball. After a quarter of an hour, we started to find our feet and scored, somewhat against the run of play. Jorginho, the Italian with a Brazilian name, fed Martinelli on the left wing. The Brazilian with an Italian name, hared for goal, cutting in as he reached the penalty area. Adan’s left leg blocked Gabi’s hard, low strike for the far corner, but the ball rebounded to Xhaka, some 12 yards out, who hammered it into the corner Martinelli had been aiming for. ‘One-nil to the Arsenal’ rang out, and thus it stayed, somewhat uneasily, until half-time.

HT 1-0 (agg 3-2)

The second half started in the same fashion as the first. Again, we could not establish control and were being harried out of possession by Sporting’s press. However, this time, this continued until the 90 minutes were up. 

Our one-goal advantage was negated in the 62nd minute by Gonçalves spectacularly chipping the backpedalling Ramsdale from 46 yards after we had again turned over the ball. Almost immediately, Ramsdale saw a powerful header pass narrowly over his bar and then had to produce a top-draw save to deny Edwards, formerly of a neighbouring parish of little repute. We were rocking, and not in a good way.

The early injuries to Tomiyasu, who slipped going into a tackle, doing the splits and injuring his groin, apparently seriously, and Saliba, who ricked his back, had removed two of Arteta’s three opportunities for tactical substitutions that might have turned the tide. The lively Jesus was withdrawn at half-time rather than after 60 mins as planned, so Arteta could retain some flexibility over making a second-half double change. Partey and Saka came on for Jorginho and Nelson with 25 minutes of normal time to go. That stabilised us, but Sporting remained dangerous on the break, and we remained our worst enemy, mispassing and giving away the ball. There were chances at both ends, but the card-happy Spanish referee, Maleu Lahoz, blew for full-time with the scores still level in the match and the tie.

FT 1-1. (agg 3-3)

In extra time we were a team transformed, playing on the front foot and attacking Sporting as we looked for a late winner as we had done successfully against Villa and Bournemouth. Trossard was nearly gifted that six minutes into extra time via a sloppy back pass, but Adan produced an excellent save to touch the Belgian’s shot onto a post, and the ball bounced to safety. An offside flag then negated an appeal for a handball, as it had two decent first-half penalty shouts for players bundled over; in some games, you just don’t get the breaks.

As the clock wound down towards 120 minutes, Gabriel was twice denied by top saves by Adan, and Sporting had Ugarte sent off for a second yellow for taking time off from clattering Martinelli to clatter Saka. But the winning goal could not be forced. 

AET 1-1 (agg 3-3)

And so the shootout. Sporting were perfect, but that man Adan again denied Martinelli. Nuno Santos slotted the fifth and winning penalty. We were out.

Penalties 3-5.

Over the two legs, we probably needn’t have lost, but it is difficult to say that we deserved to win. Arteta has a huge task now to lift tired minds and bodies and deflated spirits for Sunday. Whether his young team can dust themselves down and pick themselves up will be a real measure of whether they have the reserves of what it takes for the only thing they now have left to concentrate on, becoming league champions.

26 Drinks to “Over and Out but Hopefully not Done and Dusted”

  1. 1
    Ollie says:

    Painful to relive (or just live in the case of extra-time), but cheers Ned.
    Here’s to a much better day on Sunday. No Eurostars cancelled since yesterday, so hopefully I’ll be fine for travelling.

  2. 2
    BtM says:

    That’s a fine review of a difficult night, Ned.

    If we definitely want to win, we need to start TP5 and MO8. If we want to reduce the likelihood of a win, we need only start one of the two. If we seriously want to gamble, we simply need to start neither – which we did home and away in this tie. The gamble didn’t work.

    Xhaka, Jorgi and Vieira together lack both defensive and creative nouse and were at the heart of making a fairly average Lisbon team look quite good.

    Win the next game.

  3. 3
    TTG says:

    Very well summed-up Ned , Thankyou .
    I found it a frustrating night. I sat in my usual seat but it was like a League Cup night. We had a second string crowd in places . There were significant spaces in the North Bank Upper and the level of crowd noise was nothing like a league game . A bloke near me started laughing when Ramsdale was lobbed . He was wearing an Arsenal scarf. They must sell them in the village where he is the resident idiot .
    Borrowing slightly from Mike McDonald .
    Positives – not many . I thought Gabriel was the best over 120mins . We came alive when Partey and Odegaard came on . Who knew?
    Negatives – our purchasing has been generally excellent but Vieira is this year’s Sambi Lokonga . Nowhere near proactive or physically active enough
    Ramsdale sometimes gives me the impression he is a ‘ fur coat and no knickers keeper ‘ ie he looks way better than he is. He is quite superb with his feet but his general handling is sloppy and he makes too many mistakes . I found myself longing for Emi Martinez in the shootout . He is a similar macho posturer but keeps the ball out of the net . Controversial view but he doesn’t convince me. Bob spent a couple of days with him last week. I’d like his view
    It’s no tragedy if we lift the Premier League. I’d just like us to have played better

  4. 4
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Ned, not a great report to have to write but you have done a thorough and fair job.
    Squad development is a work in progress it seems.
    Anyway, on to Palace and I am confident we can respond as our resilience has been admirable this season.
    And wot BtM said.

  5. 5
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Perfectly described summary of the proceedings, complemented by insightful analysis. Thank you Ned!

    Some observations:
    1. We don’t really yet have a squad to compete on multiple fronts. We have a great starting eleven and now some good attacking options to rotate, but central defense and midfield suffer significant drop in individual and collective abilities. It’s not so much that the options are bad — Holding or Jorginho or Vieira aren’t bad players — but they don’t faithfully replicate the very high standards set by their first team counterparts. And given the intensity with which we try to play not everyone in the first eleven can play twice a week, no matter what Mikel demands.

    2. Aaron, despite performing well enough more often than not, have some technical flaws to sort out. The freak goal happens to the best of the keepers, but it was the penalty shootout that underlined that again. Some of the Sporting penalties were tame enough (one even squeezed in under his arms) and our recent series of keepers before him — Leno, Martinez, Fabianski, Szczesny — all saved penalties like those. Sometimes his bravura performances and macho bravado become indistinguishable and while that’s great as long as it works in matches, there is no substitute for true technical excellence. Something for him to work on.

    3. This is the third time Mikel got dumped out of Europa in the knock-out stages and all with home leg advantage in the final match: Olympiakos, Villarreal, and now Sporting. More than anything it probably shows that he finds it difficult to get the balance of team and tactics right in Europe while fighting in the domestic front. His friend and mentor has a similar issue — after leaving Barça (where his European bacon was saved by the genius of Messi and Iniesta a couple of times) he has failed to win a single CL despite managing two teams with endless resources.

    4. Our primary goal of this season was to get back to CL. Europa was one of the two paths to do that with the achievements of an European trophy thrown into the mix. But given that CL qualification is now entirely in our hands, and maybe much more, if anything this loss should really help the team to be more focused and have a clarity of purpose. One noticeable thing this season has been the team’s ability to not let the pressures following bad results (or bad beginnings in a match) impact them negatively, and with factors like midweek exhaustion, rotations taken out of the equation that single-mindedness should drive us all the more.

  6. 6
    bt8 says:

    Level-headed and insightful analysis top to bottom in Ned’s report all the the drinks. That’s what we come to this site to find. Thanks to you but congratulations to Sporting. Our squad depth is not good enough to challenge seriously on multiple fronts but we know that Thomas, Martin and Bukayo are key cogs in our machine. Hopefully all of them and the others will be sufficiently refreshed both physically and mentally for the quick turnaround of the Sunday challenge of Palace. Praying for Saliba to unstiffen.

  7. 7
    Trev says:

    Excellent, Ned – thank you !
    Very fair analysis of the match and where we are.
    I do find some of the criticism (not yours) of Ramsdale very harsh. He has made so many top saves with all parts of his body. No-one is perfect but he usually makes a very good fist, quite literally, of dealing with high set pieces into a crowd scene in our 6 yard box, and his distribution is very good. He has choices to make where he is generally under instruction to play short but is sometimes forced to go long under pressure.
    And to claim a failure to save a penalty as a technical shortcoming seems very odd to me.
    Still very young for a top keeper and brave as a lion.

  8. 8
    TTG says:

    I understand your defence of Ramsdale but I have to call it as I see it and since I’ve watched him live he just doesn’t convince me. He is the most impressive goalkeeper with his feet I’ve ever seen and it’s often like having another player in the build-up.
    But he has a number of goalkeeping faults . He rarely takes crosses cleanly even when under pressure . Remember the game against Manchester United when he let in a very soft goal. He had some nightmare moments against Liverpool last season . He is immensely brave and very athletic but I do think saving penalties is an indicator of a top keeper . We’ve had several who were excellent in this regard —Almunia, Fabianski , Martinez and Lehmann and several who rarely if ever got near penalties- Cech and Leno were good examples . As Dr.F says a couple of those penalties were very saveable , but his main value is as a lightning rod for the support . He does lift the support and is very connected to them, hence the fierce defence one gets when you criticise him . Who would I have instead ? Martinez is much better ( ironically ) , Pope is a far better keeper but poor with his feet and Henderson at Nottingham Forest ( when fit ) is a much better handler .
    But Mikel has a very clear idea of how he wants the team to play and Ramsdale is a big part of that and I’m not in any position to argue with him ! So I’d ignore my views !

  9. 9
    TTG says:

    Sorry I meant to say ‘ when under no pressure ‘

  10. 10
    Bathgooner says:

    A very measured analysis of a difficult night, Ned. I thought we were somewhat fortunate to score against the balance of play though with a bit more luck for Jesús at the end of an amazing dribble, we could have been two up at half time. Why we didn’t turn up for the second half is beyond me – was it simply that Sporting’s dynamic press kept us pinned at the edge of our own box with practically no forays beyond midfield until after they had equalised with an extraordinarily accomplished lob? we were certainly by far the better side in extra time and only three excellent saves by Lisbon’s keeper kept us from winning the tie. By then it was clear that Lisbon were holding out for penalties and when they came my grim sense of foreboding came about.

    As Blogs has observed this was the worst possible way to lose this tie. Hopefully Tomi is not as injured as we fear and Willy’s back responds promptly to physiotherapy.

    For what it’s worth, I am as one with Trev on Aaron Ramsdale. Brave keeper, good hands, commanding in his box. The penalties took place right below us. He cannot be faulted for any, even the two to which he managed to get his hands. Nor can a clearly knackered Martinelli be faulted for striking his at a good height for their keeper. At the end of the day, a penalty shootout is a lottery.

    Over the piece the better team won last night. We have other battles to fight and, hopefully, to win.

    As we awaited the onset of extra time, I had the pleasant surprise of being tapped on the shoulder to find that Pangloss, a stalwart of this fine parish, was in the seat behind me. Rows 6 and 7 of block 123 will henceforth be dubbed the Holic Zone of Ashburton Grove.

  11. 11
    Pangloss says:

    I wish to second my esteemed colleague’s proposal at 10 above regarding the naming of block 123 rows 6 & 7.

    I’d also like to commend the effort from Gabriel Jesus who several time went on marauding runs upfield. I think he’s been extraordinarily unlucky not to have scored more goal for us, and I look forward with some confidence to that changing soon.

    A final thought – I’ve seen the team live only twice this season and both times I’ve been surprised and impressed at the number of successful passes that Arsenal players have made while falling over or, a couple of times last night, while lying on the ground. I really don’t think I’ve seen this before, and I guess it’s an indicator that the players are better at putting themselves in positions where team-mates can attempt this kind of last-gasp manoeuvre. Whether that’s a mark of greater maturity, improved coaching or know-how brought in by experiences acquisitions I don’t know nor do I care that much. It contributes t a growing feeling that better times are coming.


  12. 12
    North Bank Ned says:

    Thanks for the kind words, all. That game was not an easy watch.

    Sporting’s coach worked out an alternative to parking the bus to negate our game, and, to his credit, it worked. Arteta’s counters in the second leg to limit Sporting’s midfield overloads were tactically sound, but losing two of his three windows to make substitutions so early with Tomi and Saliba’s injuries, he was constrained in what more he could do in-game. Ødergaard made a point about how European football was different to Premier League football, and the team had to learn to play in a different way, which echoes a point Dr F. made @5.

    I lean more to the Trev than the TTG view of Ramsdale’s keeping. The numbers, however, back up TTG’s opinion of Ramsdale’s penalty-saving abilities: Of the 24 penalty kicks he has faced in his career, he has saved just one. He was beaten 19 times and the other four kicks went wide. Yet, Martinez was beaten 17 times in the 21 penalties he has faced, saving three and one going wide. These numbers do not include penalty shootouts, where perhaps critical saves more readily sear into the memory.

  13. 13
    North Bank Ned says:

    A footnote on Ramsdale: If you count the four penalties against him that went wide as saves — perhaps he flashed open that fur coat at the critical moment — he becomes an above-average penalty saver.

  14. 14
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Cheers Ned. Excellent write up of a strange game where we did our best to make a decent Sporting team look much better than they are.

    It was no fun to watch us put in such an underwhelming performance, even if they didn’t really do enough to beat us over 2 legs. All bets are off in a shootout though.

    There is no time, or point, picking over the bones of this one. It is what it is. We must get back on the horse and beat Palace (I would love to see actual stats of how often we are the first game for a team that has just sacked its manager – it seems to happen so often)

    Ramsdale is very young for a keeper. He has great qualities and a desire to improve his weaker areas. I’m very happy with him.

  15. 15
    Gunnersaurus Stunt Double says:

    Strikers should always score penalties. It is their fuckup if they miss. A well-placed penalty struck at pace is not saveable, even if the keeper knew where to dive. The best way to avoid penalties costing us is not to give them away, or find ourselves in a shootout against a team we should have already beaten.

  16. 16
    Ollie says:

    Two trains cancelled on Sunday, but fortunately not mine so I shall be in attendance.

  17. 17
    Bathgooner says:

    Bonne chance pour le voyage, Ollie

  18. 18
    Trev says:

    all fair observations from the front line – sadly I can’t get there at the moment. All I would say is that I don’t see any signs of the jitters in front of Ramsdale that are quite clear when Turner plays in goal. You might or might not remember I did a comparison piece on Martinez and Leno in the summer of the ‘Martinez’ Cup Final. I came down heavily in favour of Martinez and I thought he was the best keeper we’d had for a long time. Judging by comments from people in the know in S America, he also played a great part in settling the Argentina defence. However, in the meantime he has clearly become a bit of a prat, judging by his behaviour at the World Cup presentations. He has apparently made a lot of negative comments towards the Arsenal too – somehow I have managed to miss them, but they are possibly understandable given that he spent 10 years with the club on loan, performed brilliantly in our hour of need and was then sold. Anyway – old wounds etc
    Suffice to say I am very happy with Ramsdale and GSD makes some very good points about keepers and penalties.
    Football is all about opinions though – that’s what makes it interesting.

  19. 19
    Trev says:

    Good to see Ollie is in full training. Ahem !

  20. 20
    Trev says:

    I see that Ryanair owner Michael O’Leary’s horse came in first at Cheltenham yesterday, which was a pity as it was due in at Chepstow.

  21. 21
    Cynic says:

    If you count the four penalties against him that went wide as saves

    Almost like saying “If you count all those shots that went wide as goals, he’d be up there with Thierry Henry”. 🙂

    I think Martinez is a better keeper and we made a mistake choosing Leno over him, but then again Martinez has been an embarrassment so I’m content with Ramsdale. The irony with Ramsdale is that he’s an excellent shot stopper, but can’t save a penalty.

    As for other names mentioned, there’s a fag paper between them all so Ramsdale is fine by me.

  22. 22
    Ollie says:

    Heh at Trev, king of puns!

  23. 23
    scruzgooner says:

    ned, thanks for that. i only watched the first half with one eye, the other was in a meeting at work. haven’t seen the rest (left for and had an appointment). your report above feels right, and can’t have been pleasurable to write.

    onwards to tomorrow. while i am the first to warn about banana-skin complacency, i think we will whip them.

    a lovely piece in the mothership about our “balo”, out on loan: https://www.arsenal.com/news/life-loan-folarin-balogun?

  24. 24
    North Bank Ned says:

    Cynic@21: I may have clouded my point about penalty misses counting as saves. Penalty takers shoot wide against Ramsdale more than they do against other keepers on average. So, he might be better at putting them off than other keepers. His teams won’t distinguish between a save and a miss; it is a goal adverted either way. To GSD’s point @15, shooting wide from the penalty spot is very different from shooting wide during the run of play.

    You are right about the contrast between Ramsdale’s penalty-saving and shot-stopping. He is in the top quartile of keepers playing in the Big Five leagues for saves in open play.

  25. 25
    bt8 says:

    Ramsdale advocate here. Also it wasn’t pretty in Lisbon with Turner. It feels odd to be having this discussion right after Lisbon scored that once in a lifetime goal which very few keepers are likely to have stopped unless they spend entire games standing on their line.

  26. 26
    Bathgooner says: