Arsenal 0-0 Sporting Lisbon: 5 Hits and Flops

Aaron Ramsey tussling for possession in the air during Arsenal's Group E home clash against Sporting

Arsenal secured their passage into the UEFA Europa League knockout rounds after a frustrating goalless draw against Sporting Lisbon at the Emirates. 

The draw very much feels like two points dropped by Unai Emery’s side, though it should perhaps not come as too much of a surprise. After all, the Spaniard made changes aplenty to his starting line-up here, from the team who drew 1-1 against Liverpool on Saturday.

The game’s flow was heavily disrupted midway through the first-half, when Danny Welbeck sustained a suspected broken ankle injury and had to receive lengthy medical treatment before being replaced.

Mkhitaryan and his former teammate Nani show concern for the forward's health as he's stretchered off

Mkhitaryan and his former teammate Nani show concern for the forward’s health as he’s stretchered off

It’s another unwelcome setback in a list of troublesome injury problems for the 27-year-old, who has continued to prove his worth as a valuable squad option – even if not first-choice in attack under new management.

Arsenal, for all their possession, only created a few clear-cut chances. The most promising fell to Welbeck’s replacement, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – who lacked the composure and clinical edge needed to bury the resolute visitors.

With all of that in mind, here’s an extended look at those who struggled while others impressed under the Thursday night lights in north London:

#5 Flop: Nani

Nani appeared more focused on winning free-kicks, rather than actually creating goalscoring chances

Nani appeared more focused on winning free-kicks, rather than actually creating goalscoring chances

The Sporting captain didn’t lead by example on this occasion and instead, spent a lot of time either appealing for free-kicks or failing to make the most of possession in dangerous areas.

Could have tested Petr Cech in the first-half after an inviting ball swung across the box from Abdoulaye Diaby, though he failed to anticipate the opportunity in time to react quickly enough.

Was dispossessed on three occasions, fouled three times and fired a shot wide – while surprisingly failing to complete a single dribble over the 90 minutes.

Just as ineffective as he was on matchday three against the Gunners, Fredy Montero was arguably more isolated but I’m holding the former Manchester United winger to a higher standard, meaning he starts the list here.

#4 Hit: Sokratis

Sokratis and Holding combined to force Sporting into strikes from range, or none at all

Sokratis and Holding combined to force Sporting into strikes from range, or none at all

The Greece international made a successful return to action after a few weeks sidelined through injury, replicating his impressive defensive display to keep a clean sheet away from home in Portugal last month.

On that occasion, he was easily among the candidates for Man of the Match and the same could be said at the Emirates too, during a largely unspectacular game.

Distributed the ball well as usual, with the game’s highest pass accuracy (95.2%). He also completed two tackles, a blocked shot and filled in with some important interventions whenever Sporting looked to exploit Stephan Lichtsteiner, who picked up an early yellow and couldn’t dive into challenges.

Was assured and composed at the back, proving a welcome partner for Rob Holding – who too was impressive.

#3 Hit: Marcos Acuna

Acuna kept tight to the likes of Mkhitaryan and Smith-Rowe, making it increasingly tough for them

Acuna kept tight to the likes of Mkhitaryan and Smith-Rowe, making it increasingly tough for them

Probably would have put Jeremy Mathieu in this list here, but for the Frenchman’s tactical sending off late on.

So in his place comes teammate Marcos Acuna, who was Sporting’s best performer on a busy evening – the Argentine relished the challenge and even got a booking for his troubles.

He completed two dribbles: the only Sporting player to do so, while his defensive work was standout too. He completed a game-high five tackles, made two clearances and committed two fouls too, which comes with the territory when playing against a side of Arsenal’s quality away from home.

An encouraging display from the 27-year-old, who is enjoying a productive season across all competitions – particularly in the Europa League.

#2 Flop: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Aubameyang squandered two great second-half opportunities, which saw Arsenal draw a winnable game

Aubameyang squandered two great second-half opportunities, which saw Arsenal draw a winnable game

I’m aware that this selection is harsh, but I’m holding Aubameyang to a high standard and considering he’s the club’s record signing – he should have done better with the chances created.

For £56m, the former Borussia Dortmund forward has already netted nine goals across all competitions this term and didn’t start here either. Presumably rested with fixtures coming thick-and-fast, he was introduced after 30 minutes following Welbeck’s horror injury and you can empathise for a slow tempo directly after the incident.

What you cannot sympathise with though, is the fact he missed two clear-cut opportunities to break the deadlock in the second-half. The first one was unfortunate, as he struck the woodwork just seconds after the restart. He really should have adjusted his body position and hit across goal after Mkhitaryan’s searching pass, rather than firing at Renan Ribeiro’s near post. Would have scored.

Pierre cut a frustrated figure after Emile Smith-Rowe’s refusal to tee him up on the opposite flank minutes later, but it was probably warranted after seeing his next effort.

Alex Iwobi did well to evade his marker and set up Aubameyang with another opportunity, this time one with acres of space to work with. He struck powerfully at the near post once more, but could only watch it hit the side netting.

It’s important to hold strikers to a higher standard, because often they might only have one or two chances to score in a match. They must be able to take them – Aubameyang failed to.

#1 Hit: Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Mkhitaryan in action during Arsenal's goalless draw - where he could have had a goal and assist

Mkhitaryan in action during Arsenal’s goalless draw – where he could have had a goal and assist

This was the type of game that would either hinder or help boost Mkhitaryan’s confidence levels, after an underwhelming start to the campaign for the Armenian. He has often been on the periphery this season and managed to drift in-and-out of games with a worrying regularity at times, which was also the case here.

However, it was still a determined display by a creative midfielder with something to prove – in a competition that has produced his best football during his tenure in England to date. He was regularly being challenged by Marcos Acuna down the right, their battles made for interesting viewing.

Just like most, he drifted out of the game after Welbeck’s injury but returned in the second-half with more verve and a desire to create Arsenal’s opener. It was his surging run into space on the edge of the box which created Aubameyang’s first goalscoring chance just seconds after the restart. The weight of pass was perfect but his teammate failed to make the most of things.

He had a shot saved late on after good work by Alex Iwobi, though he wouldn’t have known much about it after a reactionary flick – instead of an actual shot – saw Ribeiro comfortably hold the ball.

He didn’t get on the ball as much as he probably should have, though that’s partly to do with the fact that he’s being shifted out onto the wing. His best position remains in a number ten role, but as Emery’s preference for 4-3-3 is evident, he has been forced to adapt and embrace his defensive responsibilities more while doing so.

Two key passes, 88% pass accuracy, one completed dribble, fouled twice, two tackles and three interceptions on a busy evening for Mkhitaryan – an all-round good display from someone who is aware he can continue to improve further, and must, if he wants to retain his starting berth.

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