Result: Vitoria SC 1 – 1 Arsenal
Competition: Europa League
Date: 6 Nov 2019
Venue: Estadio D. Afonso Henriques
Arsenal: Martinez, Mustafi, Holding, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Willock, Tierney, Pepe, Martinelli, Saka
Subs: Leno, Bellerin, Kolasinac, Guendouzi, Torreira, Nelson, Lacazette
Arsenal drew 1-1 with Vitoria SC on a rainy day which could have easily seen Arsenal lose by a large margin. The Gunners were uninspiring and piss poor throughout the match and could have easily conceded a hatrick of chances in the first half.
However, Arsenal managed to score first in the 80th minute with a header from a free kick. They then struggled to hold back the Vitoria onslaught which saw them concede a late equalizer and could have conceded two more in the dying minutes in one of the Gunner’s poorest performances in recent years.
Just when you think Emery couldn’t tinker any further, he threw us another surprise by gambling on a team of first teamers in the Europa League which also saw the return of Pepe to the line-up. The coach also reverted to a back three in defence – a formation he favoured last season but one that he has avoided playing in the current season, until this game against Vitoria, that is.
This conservative approach could well be because of the scare the Portuguese side gave the Gunners in the reverse fixture at the Emirates, with only a last gasp Pepe free kick giving Arsenal the winning edge in injury time.
The formation almost worked a treat in the second minute as Tierney found space down the left wing and caught the Vitoria midfield off guard. His whipped cross almost found an onrushing Pepe. But it was the other wing back, Maitland-Niles, who received the cross but his delivery didn’t manage to find an Arsenal player as Vitoria defenders packed the box.
Despite Arsenal bossing possession, Vitoria were not going to go down without a fight. Vitoria’s Pepe found space outside the box and lashed a shot that evaded Martinez and hit the post – a warning sign for the Gunners.
Vitoria, taking advantage of the extra man in the centre of the park, cut through Arsenal’s midfield duo too easily. Edwards cut in on his left foot from the right and drove the ball towards the far post only for Martinez to save well. The Gunners were cut open just moment later down the right hand side as Vitoria made a low cross into the box that was just inches away from a tap in.
While this writer felt that Mustafi was on route to his redemption ark with a decent performance, the defender reverted to type by allowing his forward to run past him before resorting to a shrt tug to earn the match’s first yellow card. Martinez had to be alert again to palm away an attempt on goal from the resulting corner. The number of attempts (6) on the Arsenal goal within the first 20 minutes have been very worrying considering that Arsenal haven’t registered a shot at this point.
Arsenal replied with their first decent attempt in the 22nd minute as Saka and Pepe produced a good one-two for the former to cross for Holding who headed it just over from close range.
The rest of the first half continued to be a turgid affair with the Gunners lacking movement and creativity while managing their spaces poorly in attack and defence. With the last kick of the half, Pepe’s free kick on goal flew way high into Row Z – summing up the performance thus far.
Arsenal came out of the locker room with a semblance of a plan. The exterior centre backs looked to progress the ball through the channels while the midfield four stayed compact to receive the ball.
It worked fairly well in attack but it left Ceballos isolated and exposed when defending Vitoria’s counters. The Spainard was left with a few high intensity runs to cover for his defenders leading him to pull his hamstring within 5 minutes of the restart. He was taken off for Guendouzi soon after.
Guendouzi’s did improve the team’s possession and progression out from the back but Arsenal still struggled to create in the final third. This prompted Saka’s substitution for Lacazette on the 65th minute in hopes of finding the match’s first goal.
With the standard of play not any better after the two substitutions, Emery’s last roll of the dice was to replace Willock for Torreira. An odd move considering that Vitoria were retreating into their shell, three defenders looked like overkill and Arsenal were crying out for an extra presence in midfield.
It seemed that Mustafi’s redemption ark was back on the agenda as it was the defender who made the difference 10 minutes from time. Pepe looped his free kick from the left and Mustafi rose high and unchallenged to head the ball low into the far post to move Arsenal ahead. 1-0
Vitoria released the handbrake and got their equalizer in injury time. Edwards made a mazy run down the right and crossed for a teammate. Arsenal never cleared the ball as the Vitoria players kept it alive in the box and Duarte’s acrobatic finish cost them their clean sheet. 1-1
It could have been 3-1 by the end of the whistle as Vitoria carved Arsenal open and had two more big chances to win the game before the final whistle put all Gooners out of their misery having watched one of the worst performances of the Emery era.