Sporting Lisbon 0 Arsenal 1: Gunners look comfortable in Portuguese stroll

The Unai Emery express continued to gather pace on Thursday night as victory at Sporting Lisbon took the Spaniard’s winning run to 11 matches.

A fairly straightforward win was made a touch more impressive when weighed against the fact that Lisbon haven’t lost at home this year.

Given their level of performance, that may come as a surprise to many but it adds a nice, shiny veneer to a win that keeps Arsenal at the top of their Europa League group, with a maximum haul of nine points from three matches played.

Most pleasing of all, perhaps, was the way in which the team didn’t look half as vulnerable as it has done in this season’s Premier League, despite the abundance of nippy, tricky little forwards that Lisbon seemed to throw at us.

It was a poor performance from the hosts in truth and, for most of the second half, their only recourse was to kick, shove, and dive in an effort to break the flow of the game up.

Happily, it was a flawed tactic and bought them little but a few rolled eyes from the referee. Berndt Leno had little of consequence to deal with aside from a few long balls and deep free-kicks which would have made Bolton-era Sam Allardyce proud.

The shortcomings of recent weeks seemed to have been addressed, if not entirely cured, and a clean sheet was just reward for a pretty professional Arsenal performance.

The only thing missing was another goal or two, given the number of efforts the team fashioned in the middle stages of the second half.

Even with a degree of rotation and tinkering in formation, every player slotted comfortably into place and set about doing the job expected of them. In terms of scares and hairy moments, there were few and that is a trend I can well get used to, even if it makes for an entirely more sedate viewing experience. Even Granit Xhaka at left back enjoyed a comfortable night, although it’s not an experiment I would like to see much of in the future.

Credit to Danny Welbeck, a man who has shrugged off a lot of criticism of his ability in recent times, including from myself. Danny has never been the most natural of finishers and was typically at his best when arriving from the bench but he has grown in stature under Emery and is netting enough goals to ensure he is part of the conversation for a starting berth. His finish against Lisbon was excellent and, but for a soft refereeing decision, might have had two goals on the night.

Everybody else was unfussy, watchful and generally just good. There was little real cause for complaint, which is a strange feeling. I expected more from Lisbon, a team with real European pedigree, but there was nothing about them that would lead me to believe we won’t be getting another three points in the return leg.

A quirk of our fixture list this season threw up a run of games which, on paper at least, looked winnable for this side and so it has proven to date. Even the most optimistic among us might have expected a draw or two in that run but this team have had none of it. The disappointment of back-to-back defeats in the opening two weeks has been expunged by the progress shown in the two or three months since then and we can’t all help but be delighted with that. Here’s to Crystal Palace on Sunday!

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