Gunners limp into Europa League knockout stages
Arsenal battle back from two goals down to draw at Standard Liege and top their group
12 December, 2019 — By Steve Barnett
Europa League: Group F
STANDARD LIEGE 2 (Bastien 47, Amallah 69)
ARSENAL 2 (Lacazette 78, Saka 81)
ARSENAL will be seeded among the top teams in the knockout stages of the Europa League after limping into the last-32 as group winners.
The Gunners did it the hard way, coming from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Standard Liege tonight (Thursday) following yet another dreary display this season.
As group winners they will now avoid the teams that drop down into the competition from the Champions League in Monday’s draw in Switzerland.
Reflecting on the character that his young side showed to battle back and top the group, interim boss Freddie Ljungberg said: “It’s tremendous. I’m really proud of them. They showed belief in how they can play football.
“I know how good these young players are. It’s good for us in the future. The energy, they go and go. They don’t stop.”
However, Ljungberg’s side made the job of qualifying for the final 32 far more difficult than it was ever meant to be.
As the country headed to the polls in an election largely brought about by Brexit, Arsenal’s exit route out of Europe was a lot simpler.
They would have to lose by five or more goals in Liege, and Eintracht Frankfurt would have to beat Vitoria Guimaraes in the nights other game in Group F.
Even with the form the north Londoners have shown, especially over the last two months, they were never going to get thwacked by five – no matter how bad they defended.
With that in mind, and a host of injuries to contend with, Ljungberg made nine changes from Monday’s 3-1 win at West Ham, fielding a young side featuring five players under the age of 20. But it was bad luck, rather than inexperience, that saw the visitors trailing 2-0 after 70 minutes.
Standard Liege took the lead just minutes into the second half when a shot from Samuel Bastien deflected off Sokratis Papastathopoulos and beyond the wrong-footed Emiliano Martinez in the Arsenal goal.
The game looked as good as over when another deflected effort saw the home side double their lead. Selim Amallah found the space he needed to get a strike away, and the ball flew into the far corner via a slight deflections off Konstantinos Mavropanos.
With over 80 minutes gone on the clock, and Frankfurt leading in their game against Vitoria, the Gunners were heading for the runners-up spot in the group and a much tougher draw in the knockouts.
Then, however, came 10 minutes that could change Arsenal’s season come February when the competition resumes.
Bukayo Saka whipped in a sublime cross which was headed home by Alexandre Lacazette. The 18-year-old winger then turned from provider to goalscorer, curling a sweet strike into the bottom corner from just outside the area to earn a somewhat flattering 2-2 draw.
The news then filtered through that Vitoria had come from behind to win 3-2 against Frankfurt, confirming Arsenal’s place as group winners.
STANDARD LIEGE: Bodart, Vanheusden, Cimirot, Emond (Avenatti, 46), Carcela, Amallah (Lestienne, 85), Fai, Gavory, Bastien, Laifis, Mpoku
Substitutes not used: Gille, Lavalee, Cop, Boljevic, Vojvoda
ARSENAL: Martinez, Sokratis (Martinelli, 69), Mavropanos, Luiz, Maitland-Niles (Chambers, 78), Guendouzi, Willock, Saka, Nelson, Lacazette, Smith Rowe (Aubameyang, 85)
Substitutes not used: Leno, Medley, Olayinka, John-Jules