This was another step forward for Unai Emery’s Arsenal, but it certainly did not feel like that. On a night when they completed their primary target of qualifying for the Europa League knockout stages, any feeling of triumph was nullified by a traumatic and severe injury to Danny Welbeck.
Arsenal had believed a win would be needed to guarantee their qualification from the group stage, but the defeat of Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava by Qarabag meant that this solitary point, against a fiery Sporting CP, was enough to see them through. It is a combination of results that should have relieved the tension when it comes to European football for the rest of the year, but instead the loss of Welbeck – and a later injury to full-back Stephan Lichtsteiner – will leave Emery’s squad feeling the strain.
The injury to Welbeck, which left several Arsenal players visibly upset, changed the mood at the Emirates and the tone of the performance. It was only at the end, when Sporting were reduced to 10 men, that Arsenal really looked close to sealing a victory. Even then, they could produce nothing that took the mind away from Welbeck and his agony.
Welbeck’s injury was the defining moment of a first half which Arsenal dominated despite the best efforts of the Sporting fans, who were doing their best to make this feel like an away game for Emery’s side. The sheer demand for tickets in Lisbon had resulted in Arsenal allocating the away fans with a larger-than-usual number of seats here, and the atmosphere was far more boisterous than Arsenal have come to expect in their Europa League fixtures.