Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe were the only positives as Arsenal came from behind to hold Standard Liege to a 2-2 draw to top Group F of the Europa League.
Chances came few and far between in a drab first half, but the game turned on its head post the break, as Samuel Bastien handed Standard Liege the lead with a heavily deflected shot off Sokratis. Arsenal were then two goals down courtesy another deflected goal, with Selim Amallah scoring this time.
However, just when it looked like Arsenal were down and out, a Bukayo Saka-inspired comeback brought the game back on level terms. Saka first provided the assist for Alexandre Lacazette before making it 2-2 with a clean strike from the edge of the Standard Liege box.
The 2-2 draw was enough for the Gunners to top Group F, while Liege were booted out of the UEFA Europa League, finishing just one point behind Eintracht Frankfurt. The Hard Tackle now runs the rule over Freddie Ljungberg’s men.
Emiliano Martinez: 5/10
Over the course of the game, Martinez did not have a great deal to do, even though Standard Liege dominated large parts of the proceedings. Could not have done anything to stop either of the two Liege goals from going in. Indecisive with the ball at his feet, but there is only so much that one can do when the defenders in front of them are so dreadful with their positioning.
David Luiz: 5/10
Part of the horrendous backline that was never comfortable during the game. While Luiz was the best of the three-man central defensive unit, he still was not good enough to get the job done on the night. One of the senior members of the team, the Brazilian ought to have done better in keeping the defence more disciplined. Passing left a lot to be desired at times as well. Needs to do better.
Konstantinos Mavropanos: 4/10
Making a rare appearance at the back, the rustiness in Mavropanos’s game was evident. The Greek defender never really caught up to the pace of the game and was errant when playing out from the back. A horror evening got worse when Selim Amallah’s shot deflected off his hand and into the Arsenal goal. In need of a loan move.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos: 4/10
While ring rust can be attributed as the reason for Mavropanos’s struggles on Thursday, Sokratis need not have any excuses for a horrible display of his own. Much like his partners at the back, the Greek centre-back was a liability on the ball while also failing to impose himself when the Standard Liege attackers ran at him. Just not proving to be good enough this season.
Ainsley Maitland-Niles: 4/10
Deployed in a position that is best suited to his strengths, Maitland-Niles produced a terribly underwhelming performance. All through his outing, the youngster left a lot to be desired with his decision making, never really making an impact in the final third. Paul-Jose M’Poku had the 22-year-old’s measure and easily won his duel with Maitland-Niles. Isn’t doing enough.
Matteo Guendouzi: 5/10
Another performance that showed that Guendouzi has gone off the boil a bit lately. Not helped by the fact that there was very little movement from the likes of Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette in front of him. The struggles of the central defenders also forced him to drop deep, which only added to his own woes. To make matters worse, the Frenchman was rash in his challenges.
Joe Willock: 4/10
Willock is just not grabbing his opportunities. Under Ljungberg, the chances will come his way, but the young midfielder really needs to step up. Wasteful in possession, erroneous off the ball and so it did not matter how hard Willock worked over the course of the game. Lacking in confidence.
Bukayo Saka: 8/10
The big game changer for Arsenal on the night. Deployed in an unfamiliar position, Saka never really looked troubled when Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez ran at him. It was on the ball, though, where Saka made his mark, linking up effortlessly with Emile Smith Rowe and Nelson while always looking sharp.
Among English players, only Raheem Sterling (7) has been directly involved in more goals in European club competitions than Bukayo Saka (6) this season.
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 12, 2019
Saka had a role to play in each of the goal as he singlehandedly engineered Arsenal’s comeback. The teenage prodigy first set Lacazette up with a peach of a cross before producing a stellar finish from edge of the Liege box. Now up to two goals and six assists for the season, this was quite a statement performance by Saka.
Reiss Nelson: 6/10
The Player to Watch in our preview did not quite deliver. Nelson was not bad per se. But, on an evening when Saka and Smith Rowe stepped up in the final third, the 20-year-old just did not do enough. Linked up well with his fellow youngsters, but did not have the right end product to go along with it.
Alexandre Lacazette: 6/10
Not only was Lacazette one of the few experienced players in the Arsenal side, he was also donning the armband. So, it goes without saying that the Frenchman needed to lead by example. However, the leadership was sorely lacking on Thursday, while his first touch was shoddy at best. Movement left a lot to be desired and if not for his goal, he would be getting a much lower rating.
Emile Smith Rowe: 8/10
Saka produced the goods, but it was Smith Rowe who was the leading light for Arsenal in the final third. Despite starting out wide, Smith Rowe was given a free role, which played to his strengths as he could link up with Saka, Nelson and Lacazette without being restricted. A bundle of energy, he constantly got into dangerous areas. Should start getting a look-in in the Premier League.
Gabriel Martinelli: 7/10
On for Sokratis, Martinelli’s introduction provided an injection of urgency, which helped Arsenal in piling on the numbers in the final third. Got the assist for Saka’s goal as well. Such a game changer.
Calum Chambers: N/A
On the field for 13 minutes or so, Chambers was a major upgrade on Maitland-Niles and looked much more convincing moving forward while holding his own at the back.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang: N/A
A late substitution, Aubameyang did not have much time to make an impact.