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“It’s a very important match because if we win we’re first in the group. That’s our clear target. This competition is very important for us. It’s one way to win a title and get into the Champions League next year.”

Unai Emery is anticipating us clinching Europa League Group E with a couple of games to spare by winning the return fixture against Sporting at the Grove. The team that is trusted to complete the task may not be dissimilar to the one that won the away match on matchday three.

Presumably Petr Cech will come in for Bernd Leno, and if all are passed fit the back four might be Stephan Lichsteiner, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Rob Holding, and Sead Kolasinac?

Matteo Guendouzi may return alongside Aaron Ramsey at the base of the midfield behind an attacking quartet of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Emile Smith-Rowe, Alex Iwobi, and Danny Welbeck?

We won the first meeting with an unanswered Welbeck strike. We will want to start this match with the same intensity we saw against Liverpool although the cast is likely to be largely different. We coped well with the threat of Nani that night but will know he is a very real threat, along with the full-back Acuna who gave Lichsteiner a torrid time in Lisbon.

The ‘holic pound

Will we see another inspired performance to stretch the unbeaten run to fifteen matches? The bookmakers have 2-0 as the favourite at a best of 6/1. I’m opposing them and going with 2-1 at 17/2 even though we have not conceded a goal to Sporting in our three previous meetings with the Lisbon club.

If you are going to the match wrap up warm as the temperature is forecast to fall into single digit territory. Those of us watching in the warm will miss the atmosphere, but not the chilled bones.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

In the pubs and bars around the ground a full house of Gooners came together with varying degrees of caution and hope. There was a nervousnesss about who would be fit to play in the back four up against Salah, Mane, and Firmino. Two that most would have wanted failed their fitness tests. Nacho Monreal and Sokratis Papastathopoulos played no part in the proceedings that followed. Hector Bellerin and Sead Kolasinac were passed fit to fill the full-back roles.

The primary concern pre-match was whether we could start the match switched on enough to resist the high press and create fluent attacking football. The answer was an emphatic yes. Full of power and purpose we could have taken the lead with barely three minutes on the clock, but Alisson in the Liverpool goal was alert enough to deny Alexandre Lacazette’s near post flick.

Again we went so close when the excellent Granit Xhaka freed Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who saw his effort deflected into the side netting. From the resulting corner Xhaka himself drew a save out of Alisson. A minute later we were so close again when Kolasinac and Aubameyang combined on the left and the latter’s cross was headed inches wide of the target by Henrikh Mkhitaryan. This was the first-half performance we have been crying out for all season.

Stung into a response the visitors thought they had taken the lead when Firmino struck a post and the rebound was tapped home by Mane only for him to look around to spot the assistant referee’s flag rightly raised for offside. Liverpool are not title contenders without reason. Van Dijk found himself one on one with Leno who smothered the volley sufficiently to enable Skhodran Mustafi to complete the clearance.

Just past the half hour with Lucas Torreira and Xhaka bossing the base of the midfield they sent Mesut Ozil and Aubameyang clear only for the latter to see his effort deflected wide of the post again. The atmosphere at the Grove was as good as it has been for many a moon and the chants from the home crowd grew in volume as we warmed to the performance we were witnessing.

Xhaka and Ozil combined again to put Lacazette in for a low drive that fizzed narrowly wide of the far post. Five minutes from half-time the same player did put Mustafi’s header across the target into the back of the net only for the other assistant referee to raise his flag for offside. A moment of euphoria in the stands was nipped in the bud.

Still though the half could have gone either way and we survived a huge scare when Bernd Leno came for a cross he was never going to claim and mercifully van Dijk’s header came back into play off the upright.

The second-half bubbled to life when Fabinho made two bad fouls in quick succession, only seeing yellow for the second of them on Torreira. Just past the hour mark our relatively comfortable grip on the game was surrendered when Leno could only palm Mane’s cross into the path of Milner who took full advantage of the gift. If anyone thought Arsenal heads would drop after that they were proven so very wrong.

Torreira it was who started the fightback with an ambitious run and drive that Alisson was pleased to tip over the bar. Unai Emery sent on Alex Iwobi for Mkhitaryan, then rather more surprisingly Aaron Ramsey for Aubameyang. Leno made some recompense for his earlier errors when tipping another van Dijk header over the bar at full stretch. An Iwobi cross flew across the face of the visitors goal with nobody quite able to apply the finishing touch.

Ten minutes from time our last substitution saw Danny Welbeck join the fray in place of Kolasinac, with Iwobi pushed into an unfamiliar wing-back role. Liverpool also made a change with Shaqiri replacing Firmino.

Then came a moment of magic that added to an already thrilling game. Iwobi played Lacazette into the box. With his first touch he turned away from Alisson, then turned around Gomez before unleashing a beautiful curved finish around them both and inside the far post. The celebrations for the equaliser our efforts deserved were long and loud.

Three points almost came our way but Bellerin missed the target after some good approach work from Welbeck. Fabinho brought down Ozil and there were loud requests for the red card he had already avoided but Andre Marriner’s patience spared the Brazilian.

All good things come to an end and so did this wonderful display. Back to the pub we went for some post mortem discussions accompanied by a couple of delicious Icelandic firewaters (thank you Zaph). Despite the nip in the air it seemed as though everybody had a warm glow from seeing that The Arsenal are close to being the real deal.

Unai Emery said afterwards he was only fifty percent happy because we had only drawn and explained that he felt we could have won the match.

“Today the balance was good in our speed and intensity. We worked very well for the 90 minutes and the two goals is the difference in the match. This is a point and a draw, maybe we deserve a little more.”

I certainly wouldn’t argue with him on that.

It would appear that we have reached something of a fork in the road. Thirteen games undefeated, twelve of them won, and all the time we have been told we are beating teams we should be beating. Wait until Liverpool has been the warning from a section of the support. They have a point, of course, and now we are to measure ourselves against a team that has been improving over the course of three years under Klopp. Us being just three months into the reign of Emery.

The visitors share the lead of the Premier League with Manchester City and we now trail them both by four points after the draw at Selhurst Park. Defeat would not be a season-ending disaster but you can be sure there will be much angst on social media if we do lose. Similarly victory will not be any sort of guarantee for the rest of the season. It would however satisfy the new manager’s desire for improvement with every passing game.

The main concern on the eve of the match is what sort of back four we will be able to put out. Hector Bellerin, Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Nacho Monreal, and Sead Kolasinac all face late fitness tests and it’s fair to say that three of those would be preferred starters. Worse case scenario would be Bernd Leno starting behind Stephan Lichsteiner, Skhodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Granit Xhaka.

That would probably see a recall for Aaron Ramsey alongside Lucas Torreira behind an unchanged quartet of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Alexandre Lacazette.

The main task facing the manager will be filling that makeshift back four with confidence to get the ball forward at a fast tempo to beat the high press that a Klopp team will undoubtedly bring. To be fair we haven’t shown too often in the first-half of matches that we have that in our locker. Achieving that tomorrow, and scoring the first goal, would send a huge message out to our other rivals for at least a top four finish.

The scousers are undefeated in the League sharing Manchester City’s record of eight wins and two draws. They were held at Chelsea and at home by City. They did however beat the Middlesex Nomads at Wembley.

The ‘holic pound

If we are to triumph I do believe we will have to outscore them in a high-scoring contest. Therefore I have split the pound on 3-2 at 28/1 and 4-3 at 100/1. Crazy? Probably, but I will be on the bubbles if either of them come in.

Art of Football teeshirt winner

Congratulations to @AntiSocial_Joe who got lucky in the draw. You will love the quality of your prize.

I hope to see a few of you at the match and as ever wish you all a good one, ‘holics.

Unai Emery gave a first team debut to 21 year old Spanish central defender Julio Pleguezuelo alongside Skhodran Mustafi. Carl Jenkinson made a return to the team after 701 days as a makeshift left-back with Stephan Lichsteiner playing on the right. Aaron Ramsey slotted in alongside Matteo Guendouzi behind an attacking quartet of  Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Emile Smith-Rowe, and Danny Welbeck. Mustafi and Guendouzi must be fearing the axe for Saturday’s match against Liverpool as a result of starting tonight.

On a chilly All Hallows’ Eve the crowd gave an emotional tribute to Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha before kick-off. A long throw-in, a corner, and an overhit free-kick apart the opening phases of play saw the Gunners camped in the Blackpool half along with the massed ranks of white and orange. The creativity was being strangled though and we didn’t get an effort of any note in until the 18th minute when Mkhitaryan’s shot was deflected behind only for a goal kick to be awarded.

In the 21st minute Guendouzi found himself the first recipient of a yellow card for bringing down Thompson somewhat robustly. That would become an omen for later on in the match. It was apparent that the attacking midfielders were rotating positions at will in the hope of pulling Blackpool out of shape, but to little effect until Smith-Rowe’s cross was blocked for a corner which was eventually headed over by Mustafi.

Former Gunner Marc Bola’s hack at Lichsteiner’s ankles was not interestingly deemed worthy of anything other than a free-kick. Lichsteiner got his revenge when he timed a wonderful run into the box to convert Guendouzi’s perfect chip on 33 minutes. You could say he ghosted into the area on Halloween.

The Arsenal 1-0 Blackpool

When Guendouzi’s fierce drive was clearly deflected wide by a defender the referee again awarded Blackpool a goal-kick. Once is careless. Twice in the opening half was plain spooky on this, of all evenings. Delfouneso was next to clatter poor old Lichsteiner and the referee did at least have a word with the offender this time, but no more than that.

Aaron Ramsey almost finished a move he had started but couldn’t control his half volley at the far post from a Maitland-Niles cross from the right flank. The half ended with Thompson finally earning Blackpool’s first yellow card, or did he. On the BBC they said it was Corporal Jenkinson who was on the other side of the pitch!

The second half was 4 minutes old when the lead was doubled. A goal adrift, the Seasiders had a ghost of a chance but Smith-Rowe turned into the exorcist. Another former Gunner, goalkeeper Mark Howard could only palm Jenkinson’s effort from a tight angle to Smith Rowe who finished with an Ozilesque ‘bounce the ball in off the deck’ finish. This was child’s play, surely!

The Arsenal 2-0 Blackpool

Cheers turned to jeers when Guendouzi foolishly tugged gently at Thompson’s sleeve and the Blackpool man tumbled over. For two offences Guendouzi saw two yellow cards and therefore a red. The home crowd vented their frustration but the referees erratic performance was not the sole cause of the young Frenchman’s exclusion. Unai Emery was sufficiently concerned to send Lucas Torreira on for Maitland-Niles who had got some valuable minutes under his belt.

The ten men drove on and Mkhitaryan’s lung-bursting run ended with a shot into the side netting, but Blackpool responded and from a corner O’Connor, unmarked at the far post, headed the Seasiders back into the match. What a nightmare, although at Ashburton Grove and not on Elm Street.

The Arsenal 2-1 Blackpool

We had an even bigger scare when Cech miscontrolled the ball at his feet, his Achilles heel if you will, and Delfouneso netted from a blatantly offside position. What on earth possessed the goalkeeper to do that?

On 72 minutes Smith-Rowe was substituted to a standing ovation by Alex Iwobi. In truth the youngster had a mixed night but that’s how young players develop and he is unquestionably a monster talent in the making. Shortly afterwards the loudest roar of the night greeted the arrival of Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang for Danny Welbeck.

Scared of crosses, Howard was grateful to see his parry of Iwobi’s cross hoofed clear by one of his defenders before the latest substitute could pounce. The scream when Cech next had the ball at his feet was enough to persuade him pump it up the middle.

O’Connor’s despicable lunge on Aubameyang as he carried the ball forward was rightly rewarded with the red card. With six minutes remaining the numbers on each side were evened up. A third tier clogger had a moment to tell his grandchildren about.

Aaron Ramsay’s infamous sixth sense didn’t stop him from running offside as we sought another clincher. Up went the board. Six added minutes. Uncanny. They passed with us largely playing keep-ball but in the background the most foolish ‘ole’ chants I can remember in a while. There was still only one goal in it. It was enough on this fright night.

There was a time when The Arsenal at home to Blackpool played out before a Highbury bursting at the seams. Those days are long since gone and the mid-table League One club will arrive to a less than full Ashburton Grove for the Carabao Cup fourth round tie.

Working out who will feature for the Gunners under Unai Emery isn’t too easy. There are those who have not been regular fixtures lately, So Petr Cech could return in goal after injury. The same applies to Ainsley Maitland-Niles who has not made the journey to Cheltenham Town with the U-21 side for the Checkatrade Trophy match. Expect Stephan Lichsteiner and Sokratis Papastathopoulos plus either Skhodran Mustafi or Rob Holding to make up the back four.

Mohamed Elneny is not fit to feature in the holding pair. Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira may keep their places as a result. In attacking midfield we should see Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey, hopefully with Emile Smith Rowe, who along with Eddie Nketiah also trained with the first-team today. Danny Welbeck is the likeliest leader of the line.

The visitors last reached this stage of the competition in 2007. To get here this season they have beaten Doncaster away 2-1, Barnsley at home 3-1, and more impressively Queens Park Rangers 2-0 at home. In their last match they were beaten 3-2 at Fleetwood in a north-west derby. They will be without centre-back Donervon Daniels due to a hamstring problem and striker Armand Gnanduillet is suspended following his sending-off in the defeat to Fleetwood.

The ‘holic pound

The danger of taking lowly opposition for granted is always a worry. Blackpool’s players will know this may be their only chance to play at The Arsenal and that can inspire super-human effort. However we look a fitter side these days and the team selected should have enough technical superiority to impose our will over the visitors. I’m looking for a value comfortable win and have taken a boosted 22/1 on a 5-1 home win.

Win An Art of Football Laccabang Tee

Don’t forget to head over to my Twitter handle @TheGoonerholic and locate the pinned tweet on my profile. Follow and us and RT this tweet for a chance to win a Laccabang t-shirt! Good luck! The winner will be announced in the Liverpool preview on Friday.

That’s it for tonight. If you are going tomorrow layers may be required with rainfall and temperature of nine degrees forecast.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

It’s competition time again at Goonerholic thanks to our old friends at the Art of Football, who will help make one lucky Gooner’s week by sending them a superb teeshirt with the new and amazing Laccabang design.

Check out the range at the Art of Football website where you will find details of all their offerings, including a number of recent additions. The teeshirts and sweatshirts come in a range of colours and sizes from small kids to XXL for those of us of a fuller figure! Art of Football only produce a limited number of each design, so your teeshirts, like any good piece of art, are exclusive and completely original.

You can also buy a number of prints or canvasses (print sizes A2, A3, and A4 available plus A2 and A3 canvas) which would make a welcome Christmas present for the Gooner in your life. See the Laccabang design below.

Now for the good news. Art of Football have offered the tee to a Goonerholic Twitter follower. Head over to my Twitter handle @TheGoonerholic and locate the pinned tweet on my profile. Follow and us and RT this tweet for a chance to win this Laccabang t-shirt! Good luck!

That’s it. Follow us both and retweet for your chance to win. The winner will be announced in the preview of the Liverpool match on Friday. Thank you, and good luck, ‘holics.

With no recognised left-back available again Granit Xhaka had to deputise in the role alongside Skhodran Mustafi and Rob Holding. Petr Cech was fit again but Bernd Leno rightly kept the goalkeeping berth. Matteo Guendouzi joined Lucas Torreira at the base of midfield and the front four were as hoped for in the preview.

Palace started brightly and twice the alert Hector Bellerin was forced to concede fruitless corners in quick succession. The first yellow card was shown by Martin Atkinson for a nasty tackle from behind by Ayew on Alexandre Lacazette.

It took us until the fourteenth minute to get an effort away. A well worked opening saw Alex Iwobi shoot high and wide of the far post. That stung Palace into action and after Zaha had struck a post he skinned Bellerin to tee up Townsend who thankfully missed the target. That was a let off for the visitors, no question.

Ayew avoided a second yellow when he clattered into Torreira as the Uruguayan looked to get us moving forward again. Captain Mesut Ozil, Bellerin, and Iwobi combined to give Lacazette a shooting opportunity that was just wide of the mark. Then Ozil found Bellerin on the penalty spot but unfortunately he didn’t get his shot away quickly enough and it was deflected for a corner.

Leno justified his selection with a commanding punch clear in a crowded box from a corner just before the half hour mark. News drifted through that Chelsea had taken the lead at Burnley thus making it less likely that we could leapfrog them into second place today.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang switched wings in a bid to shake things up but a solitary corner that came to nought summed up yet another quiet, low tempo first-half performance. It really is beginning to look like a tactic. Draw the sting of the opposition and hit them with pace and power later on?

Six minutes from half-time Ayew ensured there was contact with the retreating Mustafi on the edge of the box and he tumbled theatrically to earth. Referee Atkinson wasn’t buying that but it was a heart in mouth moment.

In the last minute of the half the German defender foolishly dived in on Kouyate and could have no complaints about the penalty award. Milivojevic sent Leno the wrong way for Palace’s first home league goal of the season. The second-half would be a real test of the new Arsenal’s character.

Crystal Palace 1-0 The Arsenal

Stephan Lichsteiner was sent on for the injured Bellerin at the start of the half. Palace noticeably retreated in the opening phases of play as if to invite the Arsenal to break them down. Milivojevic felled Torreira on the edge of the box and that presented Xhaka with the opportunity to curl a magnificent left-footer into the top corner. It arrived six minutes after the restart.

Crystal Palace 1-1 The Arsenal

Palace had to react but Zaha’s attempt to emulate Xhaka’s strike missed the far post by some distance. Chelsea took a two goal lead at Burnley seconds before The Arsenal went ahead in controversial circumstances. A corner was diverted to Aubameyang at the far post and technology proved that the ball had crossed the line before Hennessey could complete the save. Ayew, who clearly got the headed touch to the goalscorer but claimed that the ball had brushed Lacazette’s hand on the way through. It would have been harsh to rule any touch as deliberate given Ayew had shoved Lacazette in the first place.

Crystal Palace 1-2 The Arsenal

Lichsteiner put in what was once termed a reducer on Zaha and was fortunate that the referee saw fit to settle for a lecture. Meyer then got in behind the Swiss defender and hit the near post. This was far from over as a contest. Roy Hodgson sent on the giant Sorloth for Ayew, and Unai Emery responded with Danny Welbeck for Ozil after Meyer hit another close range volley over the top. Ozil’s body language suggested he was less than impressed. I’m not sure Danny will have played as a number ten before?

Chelsea got a third at Burnley and the Gunners were in need of one too. This was not a totally dominant performance but there was certainly no lack of effort being shown. Torreira won the ball and released Iwobi. The Nigerian’s shot was deflected wide of Hennessey but also his right hand post.

Aaron Ramsey was introduced for Aubameyang with thirteen minutes remaining. That enabled Welbeck to move into a wider role. Stephan Lichsteiner saw yellow for his third ‘enthusiastic’ challenge and would need to show good discipline for the remainder of the match.

Zaha’s dive over Xhaka’s knee brought a second penalty for Palace and left a nasty taste in the mouth. Milivojevic went the same way as his first, so did Leno, but the strike was firm enough to level the score.

Crystal Palace 2-2 The Arsenal

Puncheon came on for the injured Kouyate and with our full-backs struggling that was a worrying sight. However Puncheon’s first involvement was a crunching ‘tackle’ on Torreira giving Xhaka the chance for a spectacular second of the lunchtime. It flew into the Palace fans behind the goal. As Palace threatened a retaliatory break Guendouzi took a yellow card for the team with a tactical trip on Meyer.

The final whistle brought an end to the winning run but if there was a positive to take from the match it was that we found that hard graft will make up for a lack of fluidity on days like this. Fair play to Palace who went toe to toe with a side that has blown better teams than them away this season. With respect to Blackpool who we play on Wednesday, bring on Liverpool. The next big test of the new Arsenal lies in wait.

Three pints of Abbot and a large cod and chips have raised the sprits, and delayed the preview! Apologies. After an extra hour of sleep Crystal Palace away kicks off on a Sunday-ruining lunchtime (or breakfast time if you are on the east coast of the USA and indeed worse than that in so many places where our great club is loved).

The only fitness update I have seen says that Petr Cech is fit to return, but surely Bernd Leno retains the goalkeeping berth until he suffers an injury or loss of form? We will be hoping that one of the left-backs has passed a fitness test, preferably Nacho Monreal. Unai Emery faces an interesting decision about who will be the central defensive partnership. Sokratis Papastathopoulos is probably a given and the experienced Skhodran Mustafi may get the nod over Rob Holding although the latter might be a more popular choice.

Provided we have a fit left-back expect Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira to be reunited at the base of the midfield. There was much to admire about the advanced trio of Alex Iwobi, Mesut Ozil, and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when they were briefly a thing against Leicester. Danny Welbeck would be unlucky to miss out. Alexandre Lacazette should lead the line again.

Unfortunately Benteke is ruled out for Palace so their chances of a first home league goal of the season are considerably improved. They are sitting just two points above the bottom three having taken just seven points from nine matches this season. They will however be properly prepared by Roy Hodgson and we should not be complacent about a potential tricky derby fixture.

The ‘holic pound

We’re in-form and in pursuit of a consecutive victory number twelve. I’m backing us to do just that and like the look of the market best 10/1 against a 0-2 away win.

I hope those going haven’t got a pylon-interrupted view, although most will sad to say. Like Craven Cottage, Selhurst Park is old school but not in as good a way. Those of us sitting in the warm watching in HD will be thinking of you. To be fair though it is always good to see the travelling faithful belting out the decibels where the home support usually create a half-decent atmosphere. Enjoy it, if you can.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

Unai Emery sprung something of a surprise by selecting Granit Xhaka at left-back to allow Hector Bellerin a breather in Lisbon. Danny Welbeck was picked on the left hand side of Aaron Ramsey and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Ramsey it was who wore the captain’s armband. Interestingly Carl Jenkinson was on the bench for the first time in two seasons.

The opening phase saw both midfields cancelling each other out. The first meaningful effort was a shot by Fernandes that sailed over the bar in the sixteenth minute. When he made another attempt shortly afterwards his high boot caught the face of Stephan Lichsteiner. Sporting were starting to up the tempo and that provoked a response, particularly from Ramsey and Matteo Guendouzi.

Elneny was brought down on the corner of the box by Coates and that gave Mkhitaryan the chance to test the Brazilian goalkeeper, Ribeiro, who encouragingly elected to punch a shot that was hit straight at him. Guendouzi found Mkhitaryan in space on the right but his cross was scrambled clear. At the other end Fernandes tried his luck again but it was another shot over the top. Nani repeated the feat moments later when possession was lost carelessly.

We avoided at least a free-kick in a dangerous area when Sokratis tugged at Montero’s shirt as the striker attempted to break free. Had he given the decision the referee would have had a decision to make about the colour of the card. We were unfortunate when Welbeck burst clear on the left but over-ran the ball to the goal-line. Nani was up to his old tricks as half-time approached and his dive in the box didn’t fool the referee.

The first yellow card was awarded to Acuna for a sly little kick out at Lichsteiner but Xhaka curled the resulting free-kick wide of the far post. In the one minute of added time The Arsenal attempted to stretch the temporarily down to ten men but without success. The first-half had, not for the first time this season, been somewhat uninspiring.

The first action of the second-half saw Rob Holding booked, unluckily perhaps, for an alleged prominent elbow in a challenge for a high ball with Montero. Montero it was who headed well wide of the target shortly afterwards. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang found himself clear in a one-on-one against Ribeiro but the goalkeeper won out at the expense of a wasted corner. Mkhitaryan was the third recipient of a yellow card for a trip.

A flowing team move resulted in Welbeck having a close-range strike blocked after some excellent work by Guendouzi. As the hour mark arrived Lichsteiners drive from the edge of the box was deflected out for a corner and Unai Emery attempted to stimulate his side with the introduction of Lucas Torreira for Mohamed Elneny.

Guendouzi’s ambitious thirty yarder was hit straight at Ribeiro as we tried to apply more pressure, but missing was the slick one and two touch passing at pace which we have become used to in the last couple of matches. There will be nights like this where we are subjected to more of a war of attrition. Welbeck burst clear and went down in the box when nudged by Acuna but Ramsey had been flagged for offside.

Welbeck did net when meeting a far post cross by Lichsteiner and was harshly adjudged to have fouled Gaspar who rather creatively went to ground in instalments. Another excellent Lichsteiner cross had Ribeiro scrambling to clear under pressure from Welbeck and Aubameyang.

In the next attack Coates clattered into Aubameyang and was rightfully carded. Torreira’s excellent free-kick brought a full-length save from Ribeiro. As the clock ticked past 77 minutes Coates misjudged an attempted interception which let in Welbeck to nutmeg Ribeiro with a fierce right-footed drive.

Sporting 0-1 The Arsenal

The sight of Alexandre Lacazette coming on to replace the goalscorer will not have lifted the mood of the hosts. The Gunners had clearly missed the guile of Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi to this point and that was partially put right when Iwobi replaced Aubamayang for the final four minutes plus time added on. Ramsey’s attempt to pick out Lacazette resulted in a corner that the Welshman tried to turn into a time killing exercise. Iwobi earned another we were in no hurry to take as the board indicated five added minutes.

In time added on Coates was extremely lucky that none of the five officials saw his head butt on Lichsteiner. Sporting’s ill discipline as they limped to defeat will hopefully be addressed before the return fixture on matchday four. This was a Gunners performance that a certain former manager would have called ‘efficient’, but no more than that, and it would be hard to disagree.

Top of the group with maximum points we will be looking forward to that.

October in Lisbon, Sporting and Arsenal play out a goal-less draw. In the return fixture in London The Arsenal win comfortably by 3-0 in November. That’s not what the ‘holic pound is on. It is what happened when we met this week’s opponents in our triumphant European Fairs Cup run in 1969/70. A good omen? Let’s hope so.

Ahead of the 2018/19 rematch Unai Emery has been emphasising to his team how important this competition is to him. He knows that beating Sporting twice should cement top spot in Group E of the Europa League.

“In our mind we want to be first in this group. It is a very big match and very important for our confidence. For us, for Arsenal and the supporters, I am telling them this competition is very important because it’s one title and also you go into the Champions League next year.”

It is good to see that ambition being drummed into his players who would appear to be growing in confidence with every passing match. The manager also ruled out the possibility of reverting to a back three for this potentially tricky trip. The travelling party is once again without a recognised left-back as Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac failed late hamstring tests.

Assuming there will be some rotation further forward it is likely however that the back five will remain unchanged despite the return from injuries of Sokratis Papastathopoulos and, wait for it, Carl Jenkinson. The dream lives on for the childhood Gooner. In front of them Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi could step up to allow Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira a breather on the bench.

Recalls for Aaron Ramsey and Emile-Smith Rowe are possible to make up the trio alongside Alex Iwobi behind possibly Danny Welbeck, or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up top? That would leave a potential bench, if needed, including Martinez, Sokratis, Xhaka, Torreira, Mikhitaryan, Ozil, and Lacazette.

Sporting, like us, have six points but are two goals worse off in goal difference. However they needed two late strikes to overcome Vorskla Poltava last time out. They currently occupy fifth place in the Portuguese Primeira with 13 points from 7 matches having wholesale changes to the squad.

The ‘holic pound

I read we have never won a competitive match in Portugal but there is a first time for everything. Even with a rotated squad I like the look of 1-2 to The Arsenal at 8/1.

Don’t forget we are the early game kicking off at 17.55 UK time. You don’t want to miss it and end up watching the bus stop in Fulham!

If you have a while to fill later you can listen to me wittering on in this weeks ABW podcast, see below.

Have a good one, ‘holics.

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