LONDON — Danny Welbeck kept Arsenal’s winning run going by scoring the only goal in Thursday’s 1-0 victory over Sporting Lisbon as the Gunners took an iron grip of their Europa League group.
Welbeck pounced on a defensive mistake and beat goalkeeper Renan Ribeiro with a well-taken low shot to finally reward Arsenal’s second-half dominance.
It was the 11th straight win for Unai Emery’s team, who moved three points ahead of Sporting atop Group E at the halfway stage. It means another win against the Portuguese side at the Emirates in two weeks would all but secure the group win with two games to go.
Arsenal weren’t at their best going forward but for once, they never looked likely to concede a goal. Sporting threatened at times in the opening 20 minutes but Bernd Leno was largely untroubled in goal throughout the 90 minutes, despite Emery having to field midfielder Granit Xhaka at left-back.
Welbeck’s scoring form is also a big plus for the Gunners. This was his fifth goal of the season despite very limited playing time and he is proving a very reliable back-up forward, which allows Emery more freedom to rotate his squad.
This game had little of the free-flowing attacking football that Arsenal have produced at times in their recent wins and it was the first time in 12 matches that they didn’t score at least two goals. That was partly down to resting Mesut Ozil and Alexandre Lacazette, but it’s a slight worry that midfielders like Aaron Ramsey and Mohamed Elneny weren’t able to create more going forward.
Manager rating out of 10
8 — Emery understandably made six changes from Monday’s win over Leicester but this was far from a weak side. The Spaniard showed once again that he is taking the Europa League group stage a lot more seriously than Arsene Wenger did, but he is managing to navigate these midweek games without running his players into the ground. Arsenal’s current winning streak is in no small part down to Emery’s ability to pick the right players for the right games. Also made the right decision to bring Lucas Torreira on for Elneny in the second half.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Bernd Leno, 6 — Didn’t have a save to make but was quick off his line when he needed to be and his distribution of passes was excellent. The German showed again he is very comfortable with Emery’s style of playing out from the back.
DF Stephan Lichtsteiner, 6 — Adds more toughness and physicality to Arsenal’s defence than Hector Bellerin but doesn’t offer the same threat going forward. Looked a lot more comfortable in his normal right-back position than playing on the left.
DF Sokratis Papastathopoulos, 7 — Made a welcome return from injury and instantly made the back four look more solid, although he got away with a needless shirt tug in the first half. Hardly put a foot wrong otherwise and provides the vocal leadership the team needs.
DF Rob Holding, 6 — Wasn’t afraid to get physical with the Sporting attackers when he needed to, but his composure on the ball still needs to improve. A sloppy pass that was intercepted by Nani gifted Sporting their best chance of the first half.
DF Granit Xhaka, 6 — Asked to fill in as emergency cover at left-back and coped fairly well with the defensive aspects of the position. Had hardly any impact on Arsenal’s attack.
MF Matteo Guendouzi, 7 — Another impressive performance from the 19-year-old, whose composure and distribution shows a maturity beyond his years. Created a great chance for Danny Welbeck and helped initiate a couple of good counters with quick passes forward.
MF Mohamed Elneny, 4 — A typically bland performance from the Egyptian: plenty of ground covered and lots of short passes, but very little in terms of creative quality or incisiveness.
MF Aaron Ramsey, 5 — Given the captain’s armband on the night, this was a great chance for Ramsey to show Arsenal’s hierarchy they were wrong to rescind his contract offer but this performance will hardly have changed their minds. Seemed to be constantly waiting for someone else to make things happen instead of doing it himself.
MF Henrikh Mkhitaryan, 6 — Tested the goalkeeper with a couple of good free kicks and constantly tried to make things happen when he was on the ball but couldn’t find a decisive pass or shot.
FW Danny Welbeck, 7 — Took full advantage of a defensive error to put Arsenal ahead with a composed finish. Had made plenty of good runs before that but often lacked the end product to make them count. Also had a goal from a great header disallowed for a foul, and should have scored when teed up by Guendouzi in the second half.
FW Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, 6 — Starved of service throughout the first half but made better use of his speed in the second. Should have put Arsenal ahead when through on goal in the 50th minute, but helped set up the opener with a neat back-heel flick.
MF Lucas Torreira, 7 — Gave the midfield an instant spark when he replaced Elneny, and helped Arsenal dominate the final 30 minutes.
FW Alexandre Lacazette, N/R — Came on for the last 10 minutes but didn’t make much of an impact. Lacked his usual connection with Aubameyang as he missed a chance to send his strike partner through on goal.
MF Alex Iwobi, N/R — Made a brief cameo appearance for the final minutes to help see out the game.