In a breathless night of football, Arsenal twice came from behind to beat Vitoria Guimaraes 3-2 at the Emirates.
Martin Scorsese recently compared the films of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to rollercoasters, theme park rides. With all due respects to Scorsese, a master of his art, those films are not rollercoasters. Arsenal Football Club are a rollercoaster.
Against Vitoria Guimaraes, a side whose Europa League record read won two, lost two and scored none before rocking up to North London blasted themselves into the lead through an ex-Spurs player after just eight minutes. This kickstarted a relentless Arsenal response and an equaliser, only for Vitoria to hit the Gunners on the break again and snatch a second. That’s right: the side who hadn’t conceded yet let the side who hadn’t score yet notch twice.
So Emery made a big move at half-time and brought on his two stud midfielders and they did indeed turn the game back in his favour. And then Nicolas Pépé came on and with two utterly spectacular free-kicks he tuned an embarrassing defeat into a raucous and spirit-lifting come-from-behind victory. So on the one hand the Arsenal faithful will be celebrating and as they should, but Unai Emery’s non-celebration after the winning goal was telling: this was embarrassing.
Arsenal should be winning these games at a canter. Remember Vitoria hadn’t even scored a goal yet to say nothing of picking up a draw or win, yet they were within minutes of doing just that. There is so much still to work on at Arsenal under Unai Emery. He deserves time to work on those things, but improvement will have to come soon.
We rated each Arsenal player out of 10 whilst also noting down something that we learned about each of them. How did they fare?
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Emiliano Martinez – 5 – Could do nothing about either goal in the first half, made some solid stops in the second. A quality back-up goalie.
Hector Bellerin – 6 – Promising in attack but so weak at the back. Still, his ceaseless pressing did set a tone and tempo for the Gunners as they fired their way back into things. There’s more to come but he clearly has what it takes to offer it. A superb man and talent.
Shkodran Mustafi – 5 – He’s not bad, but he wasn’t good either. He’ll never be a starter for Arsenal but appears to at least be reliable enough to not completely screw up every time he steps on the field.
Rob Holding – 5 – A shaky display where he never looked comfortable against any Vitoria forward. Should have won the game with a header late on. Clearly still working his way back to full fitness (and will be an asset when he does).
Kieran Tierney – 6 – Got absolutely wrecked, twice, for Vitoria’s opener. Responded well in attack. Fabulous cross for Arsenal’s equaliser. Still working his way back to fitness and shouldn’t be expected to solve all of Arsenal’s problems.
Matteo Guendouzi completed more take-ons (3) for Arsenal against Vitoria than any other player on the pitch.
He came on at half-time. 😳 pic.twitter.com/FVgSXQuXnB
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2019
Lucas Torreira – 5 – Ran hard, tackled well and covered for his team-mates. A superb talent poorly utilised by the Unai Emery.
Joe Willock – 5 – Quality in terms of pushing the tempo, constantly driving the ball forward. Conversely he offered zero control of the game’s tempo and as a result was hooked at half-time. Probably not mature enough to play a deeper midfield role just yet.
Emile Smith-Rowe – 6 – Drove Arsenal forward every chance he got. Didn’t have much in the way of end-product but never stopped trying; making more tackles than any other Arsenal player. He has a bright future at the Emirates.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles – 3 – Sloppily conceded possession in the lead-up to Vitoria’s second goal. Looked so uncomfortable in midfield, which is bizarre because he is, of course, a midfielder. Has playing at full-back dulled his instincts? Hooked at half-time.
2 – Nicolas Pépé is the first player to score two direct free-kicks in a Europa League game since Luis Suárez for Liverpool vs Zenit St. Petersburg in February 2013. Timely. #UEL pic.twitter.com/IBXkL7QE89
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) October 24, 2019
Gabriel Martinelli – 7 – Pulled off a delightful header to draw Arsenal level. Wasn’t involved much after that save for a few shots that ended up being blocked. A pure predator who will thrive if properly supplied.
Alexandre Lacazette – 5 – A sea of tranquillity despite the chaos around him. Can always be relied on for class but some way short of match fitness.
Matteo Guendouzi (for Maitland-Niles 46′) – 7 – Loads of energy and thrust from midfield, completely changing the thrust of the game. Won the game-winning free-kick after a driving run. Is surely now an undisputed starter for the Gunners.
Dani Ceballos (for Willock 46′) – 7 – Added some much-needed clarity and composure on the ball. Helped Arsenal negotiate the Vitoria press (at one point dribbling out of his own box) and keep the visitors on the back foot. He is a cut above every other Arsenal midfielder
Nicolas Pépé (for Lacazette 75′) – 8 – Thundered home a wonderful free-kick to equalise when Arsenal looked hopeless. Began stitching defenders up and almost created a game-winner with another free-kick before actually winning the game in stoppage time with a third free-kick. A wondrous, spectacular free-kick. He looks ready to explode in an Arsenal shirt.