Video: Arsenal 3 – 2 Vitoria de Guimaraes [Europa League] Highlights 2019/20
Arsenal preserved the sanctity of their Thursday nights but did little to hide the fact that storm clouds are gathering. They could come away from this undeserved win against a sharp Vitória Guimarães side in the knowledge that Nicolas Pépé, their record signing, had made his most notable contribution for the club with two outstanding free-kicks in the last 10 minutes. The second of them came with the game’s last action and all but secured their place in the knockout stage with three games to play. But the expected night of escapism was largely one of toil.
Unai Emery’s team went behind early on to a goal from Marcus Edwards, the former Tottenham youngster, and although Gabriel Martinelli equalised it seemed for long periods that Bruno Duarte’s goal would add to the gathering anguish in north London.
Before the game Emery had launched into an impassioned defence of his Arsenal record. He made an effort to explain his vision and one of the few crystal-clear elements, as evidenced by his team selection here, is that Mesut Özil has little or no part in it. Özil was left out of a matchday squad for the fifth consecutive time and the ninth match in 13; “You make me laugh,” the playmaker had cryptically tweeted on Wednesday, leaving practiced rune-readers to draw their own conclusions.
Perhaps Özil had simply been referring to the Europa League, in which consecutive wins had offered Arsenal rare cause for unconditional good humour. But it took only eight minutes for any smiles to wear thin. André Almeida had already drawn a save from Emiliano Martínez when Vitória exposed their right flank for a second time. This time Victor García cut back for Edwards, who showed admirable composure to finish with a low drive. Perhaps it had to be Edwards, a shining light in Spurs’ academy before opting to kick-start his career in Portugal, who applied the wound on a night earmarked for Arsenal’s youngsters to enthral.
One of them, Emile Smith Rowe, saw a drive blocked by Edmond Tapsoba. But Vitória, quick to exploit cavernous gaps between Arsenal’s lines, continued to carry the threat. Rob Holding denied Edwards another sniff and Davidson, their left winger, spooned a half-chance off target at the back post. Arsenal were fortunate that, when finally tested, Vitória seemed so brittle. Martinelli had begun on the left wing but was redeployed to join Alexandre Lacazette down the middle. That meant he was placed to meet Kieran Tierney’s delivery eight yards out and, with the goalkeeper Miguel Silva appallingly positioned, could nod a simple equaliser.