Arsenal drew this Europa League clash against Sporting Lisbon – but that was the last thing on anyone’s mind.
Instead, thoughts were firmly with Danny Welbeck, who is facing another arduous road back to fitness after suffering a sickening ankle injury in the first half.
It was one of those injuries you wish you never saw. One that you cannot erase from memory no matter how hard you try.
Danny Welbeck suffered a nasty injury to his ankle and the game was delayed for some time as he came off on a stretcher
The Arsenal forward looked in serious discomfort after landing awkwardly and received oxygen to deal with the pain
Jeremy Mathieu (left) was sent off late in the game for scything down Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang who was clean through
The defender had played brilliantly but had to go after deliberately taking out the Arsenal striker, who missed the free-kick
The official guidance from Arsenal last night was Welbeck’s injury was being assessed. But you didn’t have to be medically trained to realise the severity of Welbeck’s injury. We’re looking at months, rather than weeks.
Given Welbeck’s entering the final six months of his contract, and the gruesome photos of his ankle – you wonder if we’ll ever see him in an Arsenal shirt again.
But that’s a debate for an altogether different day. Right now, you simply hope Welbeck makes a full recovery.
Arsenal qualifying for the knockout stages – and extending their unbeaten run to 15 games – with this result seems irrelevant in such cruel circumstances.
And while their performance against the Portuguese failed to capture the imagination, not losing games is becoming a habit for Arsenal.
It’s a habit Unai Emery will hope his team don’t drop in a hurry as his side booked their place in the Europa League knockout stages with this point.
MATCH FACTS, GROUP TABLE AND MATCHZONE
Cech 6; Lichtsteiner 6.5 (Maitland-Niles, 74), Holding 6.5, Sokratis 6.5, Jenkinson 6.5 (Kolasinac 60); Guendouzi 7, Ramsey 6.5; Smith Rowe 6.5, Mkhitaryan 6.5, Iwobi 6; Welbeck 6 (Aubameyang 30, 6)
Unused subs: Martinez, Torreira, Maitland-Niles, Nketiah
Ribeiro 6; Gaspar 6, Coates 6, Mathieu 6.5, Acuna 6.5; Nani 6.5, Miguel Luis 6, Guedlj 6, Bruno Fernandes 6.5; Montero 6 (Bas Dost 69), Diaby 6 (Cabral 23)
Unused subs: Salin, Jefferson, Pinto, Mane, Petrovic.
Bookings: Gaspar, Luis, Acuna
Referee: Gediminas Mazeika (LTU) – 6
Matteo Guendouzi’s heatmap shows another busy performance from the midfielder.
Medical staff waved on the stretcher as they assessed the damage to the former Manchester United forward
Matteo Guendouzi was among the team-mates who were visibly shaken by the injury to Welbeck in the first half
The England international was given a warm reception as he was slowly carried to the sidelines and down the tunnel
Emery fielded a largely understrength side – Henrikh Mkhitaryan the only survivor from the team that started Saturday’s draw against Liverpool.
As for Sporting, the biggest change they’ve made since the first game in Lisbon a fortnight ago is sacking manager Jose Peseiro last week – interim coach Tiago Fernandes taking the reins for last night’s clash.
The opening exchanges mirrored that of the clash in Portugal, both side offering little in the way of quality.
The first goalmouth action arrived in the 17th minute when Sebastian Coates cleared off the line after central-defensive partner Jeremy Mathieu diverted Matteo Guendouzi’s low cross towards his own goal.
But then came that moment we all went to forget. It arrived in the 24th minute Welbeck following heavily after an innocuous collision with Sebastian Coates.
You immediately knew it was serious by Welbeck’s reaction, the striker looked anguished as he writhed in pain on the floor.
The medical quickly arrived, the Arsenal star requiring oxygen.
The concern on his team-mates faces – particular Guendouzi, who looked haunted – said it all.
The England international was eventually stretched off to a standing ovation after receiving five minutes of treatment, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang replacing him.
But what wretched luck, just hours after his call-up into the England squad, for the forward who looked to have finally overcome the injury nightmares that have blighted his career at Arsenal so far.
Early indications were Welbeck had suffered a serious injury to his right ankle – gruesome images of the forward’s right foot facing the wrong direction underlining the severity of the injury.
Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang came off the bench and attempted to revive Arsenal’s fortunes in the final third
Stephan Lichsteiner (right) takes a tumble under the challenge of Nani after a robust contest for possession
Sebastian Coates was a busy man for Sporting Lisbon as the Portuguese side dug deep to repel Arsenal
The players watched on as one particularly errant header flew well wide of the target in the first 45 minutes
The Gabon star was met with fierce resistance as Sporting put on a disciplined performance at the back in London
Welbeck’s horrific injury stunted whatever momentum – and there wasn’t much – the game had built up.
Indeed, half-time couldn’t come soon enough – especially for Arsenal players who were eager to be updated about their stricken team-mate.
It was Welbeck who scored the winner against Sporting two weeks ago. Here, his team-mates wanted to win the game for him.
But they required a marked improvement in the second half after this largely mundane opening 45 minutes.
And within 40 seconds, the Gunners improved on their lacklustre first half showing when Aubameyang struck the cross bar with a close range flick from Mkhitaryan’s cross.
Sporting were showing more intent, too – Abdoulay Diary seeing his acrobatic scissor kick volley blocked by Carl Jenkinson before Aubameyang went close again, rippling the side netting in the 58th minute.
But like the game in the Portuguese capital, Arsenal were finding clear cut chances hard to come by. Arsenal’s performance against Liverpool on Saturday was vibrant and full of gusto.
This was anything but. Emery’s attempts to cajole his players told its own story. He was far from satisfied, he’s come to expect more from his team in recent weeks. Alex Iwobi tried his luck from distance only to watch hie effort sail over the bar.
Arsenal manager Unai Emery was active in his technical area as he instructed his side with his customary verve
Similarly, Jenkinson’s audacious attempt at a 30 yard volley went horribly wrong, his effort ending up bouncing behind him.
And is if Arsenal’s night in terms of injuries couldn’t get any worse, Lichtsteiner pulled up with a suspected right hamstring injury in the 72nd minute.
The Switzerland defender was eventually replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles as the game headed towards a goalless draw.
Sporting were reduced to 10 men in the closing stages when Mathieu was given a straight red card for fouling Aubameyang with the striker about to bear down on goal.
But Arsenal couldn’t make their numerical advantage pay as the game ended goalless.