• Arsenal fight back to secure top spot in Europa League

    Arsenal

    Arsenal finished as Europa League Group F winners after goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka helped them fight back to claim a 2-2 draw with Standard Liege on Wednesday.

    Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah gave Standard a two-goal advantage as they chased a victory to qualify for the knockout phase.

    However, those hopes were dashed when Lacazette and Saka scored in quick succession to settle Arsenal’s nerves.

    The Gunners progressed to the last 32 of the competition as group winners ahead of Eintracht Frankfurt after they lost 3-2 to Vitoria Guimaraes.

    Arsenal had won all five of their previous European encounters with Standard but a youthful side picked by interim boos Freddie Ljungberg, featuring nine changes from the weekend win over West Ham, had to battle against more motivated opponents.

    The Gunners enjoyed the best of the first half with the lively Saka twice testing Standard goalkeeper Amaud Bodart but the contest came alive after half-time.

    Standard took the lead three minutes into the second half when Bastien’s shot deflected off Sokratis Papastathopoulos and wrongfooted Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez.

    The goal galvanised the home side while Arsenal retreated into their shells, and Standard scored again when Selim Amallah punished more sloppy defending to strike a shot – via a deflection off Konstantinos Mavropanos – past Martinez.

    Ljungberg’s side were jittery but managed to settle any nerves that Standard could overhaul their head-to-head record when Lacazette headed in a Saka cross with 12 minutes remaining.

    Moments later the impressive Saka then got his name on the scoresheet with a fining curling effort to ensure Arsenal finished with a share of the points and top spot in the group.

    What does it mean? Gunners seeded in draw

    Arsenal, beaten finalists in last year’s Europa League, will be seeded for next Monday’s draw for the knockout phase of the competition after topping Group F.

    It means they will avoid Inter and Ajax, who will both drop down from the Champions League.

    At 21 this was a mature performance from Standard goalkeeper Bodart, and he could do little about the goals.

    He was brave and decisive off his line and made a number of key saves. Standard might have found themselves out the contest had Bodart not been such an imposing last line of defence.

    Luiz looks shaky in Liege

    On a sticky December pitch this was perhaps not the game to try to knock the ball about at the back but David Luiz did so anyway.

    Arsenal supporters had their hearts in their mouths on more than one occasion after careless passes by the Brazilian. They were fortunate not to be punished further.

    Key Opta Facts

    – Arsenal avoided defeat in an away match having been two goals behind for the first time since April 2018, away at CSKA Moscow in the Europa League.

    – Standard Liege remain winless in all six matches against Arsenal (D1 L5), going two goals ahead in each of their last two home games against them and winning neither.

    – Arsenal have failed to keep a clean sheet in their last 13 games in all competitions, equalling their worst run under Arsene Wenger (also 13 in a row between October and December 2004).

    – Saka has assisted six goals for Arsenal in all competitions this season – two more than any other player.

    – Lacazette has scored 15 goals in his last 20 Europa League starts, a run stretching back to February 2017 when he played for Lyon.

    What’s next?

    Arsenal welcome defending Premier League champions Manchester City to the Emirates on Sunday. Standard are in action on the same day in the Belgian Pro League when they host Vincent Kompany’s Anderlecht.

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