REINTRODUCING NICHOLAS PEPE
If we’re being honest, up until now, Nicolas Pepe hasn’t really shown why Arsenal spent £72m on him in the summer, a few bright moments aside. However, 19 minutes and two world-class free kicks could prove just the thing he and Arsenal need to jump start their season.
Emery noted in his post-match press conference that Pepe had been practising his free-kicks in training- and he got the pay-off. Arsenal had wasted set-piece after set-piece up until Pepe lined one up in the 80th minute. From the right flank, he curled a beauty of a free kick in at the far post to equalise, with goalkeeper Miguel Silva left standing with his hands on his hips.
It was like Arsenal had two jump cables attached to their squad afterwards as they revved into high gear, with their play drawing another free kick in the final minute. The crowd were on their feet and the anticipation sizzled across the Emirates as Matteo Guendouzi and Pepe discussed tactics.
The whistle blew, Guendouzi ran in front and Pepe produced a similarly jaw-dropping finish. It was never going to be Guendouzi’s to take, really – the moment was perfectly set for another Pepe masterclass.
Cue the rapturous celebrations as Arsenal finally made use of their advantages, avoiding a potential embarrassment and breaking Vitoria hearts, whose players and fans had been sensational throughout. Did Arsenal deserve to win? No, but Emery – who hailed the goals as perfect after the game – used all of his vast Europa League nous to see his team over the line.
Pepe needed a standout moment to reintroduce himself to the Arsenal fans and this was it. The question is, what next? Only Pepe can answer that and despite his standout performance, he still has a way to go to prove why his is Arsenal’s club record signing.
CELTIC DIG DEEP FOR A FAMOUS WIN
Lazio arrived in Glasgow with a game plan and up until the 67th minute, it was working a treat.
They were happy to sit back, happy to let Celtic dominate possession and happy to hit them on the counter-attack.
Celtic were sloppy in the opening hour but their luck changed when Odsonne Edouard found Ryan Christie inside the box, whose left-footed shot beat Thomas Strakosha to level things up – but more importantly change the atmosphere inside Parkhead – as the home fans started to believe again after a long period of frustration.
All of a sudden, it was a very different match, with Lazio committing men forward in an attempt to claw back control. They brought on star striker Ciro Immobile, red-hot in form, but he wasted two good chances to regain Lazio’s lead.
The Italians were then punished at the death. Firstly, Christopher Jullien’s towering header at the far post gave Celtic an 89th-minute lead, before Fraser Forster produced a mindblowing 95th-minute save to secure victory – and spark wild celebrations on another famous European night in Glasgow.
HOW WOLVES ARE ENJOYING THIS EUROPA LEAGUE ADVENTURE
After Willy Boly’s late winner away to Besiktas, Nuno Espirito Santo’s side followed it up with a come-from-behind victory over Slovan Bratislava to inflict the Slovakian side’s first loss in their new stadium. It was a turnaround on the night and there’s been a turnaround too in Wolves’ season.
A little over a month ago 10-man Wolves were a goal down in stoppage-time away to Crystal Palace and heading for a fourth consecutive defeat. But Diogo Jota found the net in the dying moments and Wolves have not been beaten since. They are now seven games unbeaten in all competitions and looking well placed for another strong season.
It wasn’t such a good night for Jota in Bratislava – he was sent off late on – but the man who set him up that day at Selhurst Park continues to shine. Adama Traore’s half-time introduction was the catalyst for this comeback, shifting the momentum of the match within seconds of coming on.
There might be better players than Traore in the Premier League right now. There are not many anywhere who are more exciting to watch.
UNITED LEARNING THE ART OF WINNING UGLY
Much of Manchester United’s performance against Partizan flattered to deceive. Lots of passes given away, frequent fouls and there are still signs of rustiness with the three-man defensive system used by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and from the personnel playing within it.
But the main statistic was the goals column: Partizan 0-1 Manchester United.
For all the defensive uncertainty and chances conceded, they still kept a clean sheet; and although the penalty came after a silly challenge, it was a good run from youngster Brandon Williams and the spot-kick was coolly converted by Anthony Martial on his return from injury.
United realistically don’t have the players to pass teams off the park like ‘noisy neighbours’ Manchester City or blitz teams with attacking verve like Liverpool, but their performances so far this season show they will be involved in a lot of tight, competitive games and the tricky art of getting those results over the line is a crucial one.
Many of the young players – Williams, James Garner and Scott McTominay – will have learned a great deal from the manner they ground out victory at the FK Partizan Stadium.
Jose Mourinho was widely criticised for his drab style of play while at the club, but most fans recognise this is a season of transition for Solskjaer at United – and winning ugly is better than drawing or losing ugly.
MAGNIFICENT MORELOS PROVES HIS WORTH AGAIN
You wonder just where Rangers would be without their red-hot striker Alfredo Morelos, who came to his side’s rescue again at the Estadio Dragao to claim a precious point at Porto.
The Colombian may rub opposition players and fans up the wrong way, but Rangers manager Steven Gerrard will not care one jot if his star man continues to deliver goals at his current rate.
And Morelos was at it again in northern Portugal to help earn the visitors a hard-earned draw with a well-taken goal just before half-time – cancelling out Porto’s stunning opener – his 16th goal already this season moving his team up to second in the Group G standings.