Nicolas Pepe was the super sub as he scored two late free-kicks to save Arsenal’s blushes and complete a 3-2 comeback win over Vitoria SC on Thursday.
Arsenal received an early setback as Tottenham Hotspur academy product Marcus Edwards put Vitoria de Guimaraes ahead with a thumping finish. The hosts, though, hustled on and got back on level terms just past the half hour mark, when Gabriel Martinelli caressed his header into the net after meeting Kieran Tierney’s pinpoint cross.
But, minutes later, Vitoria SC had their lead back, as Bruno Duarte netted from close range after Davidson’s shot had struck the woodwork. As the minutes wore on, the danger of a shock home loss appeared to be looming. But, substitute Nicolas Pepe had other ideas, as he converted two free-kicks late on to complete the stirring comeback.
The win meant Arsenal are now on the verge of booking their place in the knockout stages of the Europa League. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Unai Emery’s men following their hard fought win.
Emiliano Martinez: 6/10
A decent performance by Martinez, who made a couple of stops to keep Arsenal in the game. But, he ought to have done better when Marcus Edwards netted the opener, although the defenders were culpable for the most part. Could not have done anything to stop Bruno Duarte from scoring.
Hector Bellerin: 5/10
Disappointing from Arsenal’s skipper on the day, who still seems to be lacking the required sharpness to become a regular. That said, his performance was not without positives, with the standout moment being his pass for Gabriel Martinelli, which the Brazilian failed to convert. Sub-par defensively, but his output at the back should improve with more game time.
Rob Holding: 5/10
Another player who has been touted to be in contention to become a regular soon. But, this ended up being a missed opportunity for Holding, who was one of those who were beaten too easily for the first goal scored by Vitoria SC. Improved as the game went on, particularly on the ball as he was assured while passing out from the back.
Shkodran Mustafi: 5/10
Mustafi has surprisingly been solid at the back in the rare opportunities that have come his way. But, on Thursday, he turned back the clock and produced a performance that everyone has grown accustomed to seeing from him. While there were still some positives, he just wasn’t inspiring enough for a side that struggled for much of the game.
Kieran Tierney: 6/10
It was a horrible start to the game for Tierney, who was also guilty of switching off for Edwards’ goal, and was shaky for the first quarter of the game. But, once he found his feet he displayed the qualities that will make him a certainty in the Arsenal back four over the course of the season.
Tierney made 8 recoveries, which were crucial against a buoyant Vitoria SC. Most importantly, he provided the assist for Martinelli’s goal, a pinpoint cross that was one of the better offensive moments of the game for Arsenal. Slowly working his way into starting week in week out at the back.
Lucas Torreira: 5/10
There has been much debate about who Arsenal’s holding midfielder should be on a regular basis. Torreira, though, did not help his cause at all thanks to some wayward passing and other awkward moments, although he was not helped by his manager’s decision to play him in a position that he does not prefer. With that in mind, it was a reasonable enough display. But, likely to be back on the bench this weekend.
Joe Willock: 4/10
Like Torreira, Willock suffered more due to his manager’s decisions than anything else. Deployed as the holding midfielder in a double pivot that also contained Torreira, it is curious as to what Emery was thinking when he zeroing in on the duo’s roles. Clearly affected by the extreme changes in his roles this week.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 4/10
It has been a poor season for Maitland-Niles, who is no longer in contention for the right-back slot and is now likely to become more of a bit-part player. Only has himself to blame after a horrendous first half wherein he created no chances and lost the ball in the lead-up to Vitoria SC’s second goal.
Emile Smith Rowe: 7/10
Among the starters, Smith Rowe was a clear standout. In what has been a tumultuous year for him affected by injuries, the young midfielder will be glad to have completed the entire 90. Showed so much awareness when making his first touches in tight areas, always looked to make things happen and drive his team forward. Composure is a trait he is lacking in, but the only way seems to be up.
Gabriel Martinelli: 7/10
With every passing game, Martinelli is appearing to be a bargain buy for Arsenal. This might have perhaps, been his worst outing till date. But, that says a lot that even at his worst, he was able to contribute to the team’s cause with a fine finish. What is even more impressive about his showings is that he is a willing runner off the ball and does a great deal defensively. A top signing.
Alexandre Lacazette: 5/10
A game to forget for Lacazette, who was clearly lacking sharpness for the duration of his stay on the pitch. This was evident in the sheer number of offside calls that went against him, abysmal for a player of his experience. The game simply passed him by before he was subbed off for Pepe, and the fact that he made a meal of the headbutt situation was inexcusable.
Matteo Guendouzi: 6/10
Emery had to make something happen at half-time and he threw on his best midfielder to change the course of the game. Not the best 45 minutes he has played this season, but Guendouzi hustled on and he won one of the two free-kicks that Pepe converted.
Dani Ceballos: 5/10
On for the ineffective Maitland-Niles, Ceballos was a clear upgrade, creating a chance within minutes of being introduced, something the incumbent was unable to do. But, after a bright start to the second half, the Spaniard fizzled out and could not affect the proceedings much.
Nicolas Pepe: 9/10
Make that three goals from set-pieces. 🎯
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) October 24, 2019
The star of the night. When Arsenal were in need of inspiration, Pepe stepped up and converted two free-kicks in such beautiful fashion that all the talk of a poor start to his Arsenal spell has dissipated away to some extent. Without him, a shock home loss was a certainty. Ought to be boosted by this performance.