Tuesday 20 November 2018

Welbeck injury mars Gunners' qualification

Arsenal 0 Sporting Lisbon 0

Danny Welbeck suffers an ankle injury during Arsenal’s draw against Sporting Lisbon Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Danny Welbeck suffers an ankle injury during Arsenal’s draw against Sporting Lisbon Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

Sam Dean

This was another step forward for Unai Emery's Arsenal, but it certainly did not feel like that.

On a night when they completed their primary target of qualifying for the Europa League knockout stages, any feeling of triumph was nullified by a traumatic and severe injury to Danny Welbeck.

Jeremy Mathieu of Sporting CP is shown a red card by referee Gediminas Mazeika after a foul on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Jeremy Mathieu of Sporting CP is shown a red card by referee Gediminas Mazeika after a foul on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Arsenal. Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Arsenal had believed a win would be needed to guarantee their qualification from the group stage, but the defeat of Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava by Qarabag meant that this solitary point, against a fiery Sporting CP, was enough to see them through.

The injury to Welbeck, which left several Arsenal players visibly upset, changed the mood at the Emirates and the tone of the performance.

It was only at the end, when Sporting were reduced to 10 men, that Arsenal really looked close to sealing a victory.

Even then, they could produce nothing that took the mind away from Welbeck and his agony.

Nani of Sporting CP celebrates after the match. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Nani of Sporting CP celebrates after the match. Photo: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Welbeck's injury was the defining moment of a first half which Arsenal dominated despite the best efforts of the Sporting fans, who were doing their best to make this feel like an away game for Emery's side.

Welbeck had looked lively in the opening stages, when he and Henrikh Mkhitaryan had combined well with 18-year-old Emile Smith Rowe in attack.

Only a goal-line clearance from Sebastian Coates saved Sporting defender Jeremy Mathieu's blushes, and it was so close to trickling into the net that Emery had already begun to celebrate on the touchline.

With Sporting only offering the most minimal threat on the counter, Welbeck looked the game's most dangerous player. First he headed wide from a corner, and then another header was saved by Sporting goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro.

It was in his efforts to score this second attempt that Welbeck landed horribly on his right ankle. His treatment on the pitch, which included an oxygen mask, was worryingly lengthy and clearly disturbing for his team-mates.

While the severity of these injuries is rarely made clear until the following day, at the earliest, there can be no doubt that this was a major problem for Welbeck, who was earlier named in Gareth Southgate's England squad for the upcoming matches against the United States and Croatia.

Emery would have been thankful that he had named Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the bench as a direct and high-class replacement for Welbeck.

It was Aubameyang who went closest to opening the scoring in the first few minutes of the second half, when his near-post strike grazed the top of Ribeiro's bar.

Arsenal continued to push, but they consistently fell short with either the final pass or the crucial shot on goal.

Their hopes were boosted when Mathieu hacked the sprinting Aubameyang to the ground in the final moments, an offence for which he saw a straight red card. But Aubameyang sent the resulting free-kick high into the stands, and that was to be that on a difficult night. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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