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Arsenal vs Sporting result: Danny Welbeck injury sours progression to Europa League knockout stages

The Independent logo The Independent 08/11/2018 Luke Brown
Danny Welbeck leaves the pitch on a stretcher after sustaining an injury © Reuters Danny Welbeck leaves the pitch on a stretcher after sustaining an injury

Let’s start with the good news for Unai Emery’s Arsenal. It is now 83 days and 15 matches since they last tasted defeat, with this goalless draw against an obstinate Sporting confirming their progression to the knockout stages of the Europa League. And yet such positives were completely overshadowed on a subdued night when first Danny Welbeck and then Stephan Lichtsteiner suffered serious injuries.

Arsenal never had to leave second gear here and yet the two injuries sapped all momentum from them, like air rushing out of a balloon. Welbeck’s was particularly bad, the forward appearing to dislocate his ankle before being rushed to hospital. Lichtsteiner then collapsed to the turf around an hour later to add insult to injury.

a group of people that are standing in the grass © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited

Sporting have their own problems, of course. A fascinatingly balmy club trapped in a perpetual crisis of one kind or another, they disposed of manager Jose Peseiro last week after they lost 2-1 at home to second-tier side Estoril, and were understandably content to play for a point here. They got it, keeping alive the slim possibility of them overhauling Arsenal at the top of the group.

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Quite how Arsenal didn’t break the deadlock is anybody’s guess, particularly after Jeremy Mathieu was sent off for a tired lunge on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with just a few minutes remaining. But the forward ballooned his free-kick over the crossbar, having earlier fired wastefully into the side-netting from close range. Henrikh Mkhitaryan also had his moments, meandering into the box late on only to prod a tame shot directly into Renan Ribeiro's grateful arms.

This was not to be Arsenal’s night, something signalled by the horrific injury sustained by Welbeck midway through the first half. After finding himself linked with January moves to both Crystal Palace and Tottenham in this week’s newspapers, Welbeck surely thought his week couldn’t get any worse, but it was obvious from the moment he tangled legs with Bruno Gaspar that he was in real trouble.

The reaction of his fellow players told you everything you needed to know: Matteo Gunedouzi watched on with horror through splayed fingers as an oxygen mask was slapped over Welbeck’s face, while Nani crouched on the turf to console his former Manchester United team-mate. The physios who ran onto the pitch appeared to suggest he had suffered a dislocated right ankle and, if that’s the case, the rest of his season is in peril. A leg brace was duly applied before he was taken to hospital.

The injury sucked what little atmosphere had been tentatively brewing around the stadium and, watching Welbeck being stretchered down the tunnel, it was hard not to wonder if this is the last we will see of him in an Arsenal shirt. Out of contract in the summer, his latest injury will come as a blow to any potential suitors as well as England manager Gareth Southgate, who had earlier that day named him in his squad for the forthcoming internationals against the USA and Croatia.

Just two weeks ago Welbeck was Arsenal’s hero as he cooly slotted home a late winner in Lisbon; how different the circumstances this time around, and what a cruel blow to a player who has been beating on the door of the first-team having scored four times in his five cup outings this season. He had started this match well, too, threatening regularly in an exciting if unlikely strike partnership with Emile Smith Rowe.

This was yet another night where Arsenal’s youngsters shone brightest. Gunedouzi was sent off in his last match but didn’t put a foot wrong here, spraying through-balls down either flank and repeatedly dropping the shoulder to scuttle into space. Ahead of him Smith Rowe was equally impressive, an 18-year-old upstart deployed in the liberating central attacking role that Aaron Ramsey craves almost as much as his £300k-a-week.

And yet how can Ramsey complain with a deeper role in Arsenal’s engine room when this is how Smith Rowe performs when handed centre stage? The teenager was electric: repeatedly threatening from distance and gliding into space as if wearing rollerblades, all the time waved forward by an increasingly enthusiastic Emery.

But for all of Smith Rowe’s beguiling flicks and tricks, Sporting’s stout rearguard was to hold firm, even after Mathieu was given his marching orders. The Frenchman departed shortly after Lichtsteiner, who tweaked a hamstring lumbering after a long-ball and will join Welbeck on the sidelines.

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