Danny Welbeck injury casts shadow over Arsenal draw with Sporting

Amy Lawrence at the Emirates Stadium on 8 November 2018

The fearful hush that descended over the Emirates when Danny Welbeck landed in overwhelming pain never really lifted on a psychologically challenging night for Arsenal.

The cold statistics of the match were favourable for a team who managed to qualify for the Europa League knockout round with two games to spare and extend their undefeated sequence to 15 matches.

But this was not an evening that will be remembered with fondness, because the fate of Welbeck dominated.

He was taken to hospital and all the signs suggest he faces another long and demoralising spell of rehabilitation. The moment of horrendous injury, 26 minutes in, deeply impacted on the tone of this game. In an instant it drew all the sting from Arsenal, diminishing the sense of contest for them – if not entirely from a Sporting side who were delighted to emerge with a goalless draw.

Up until then a promisingly high-tempo European performance was taking shape. Then, a soberness took hold as everybody watched Welbeck suffering on the pitch and in need of medical attention. The Arsenal forward had jumped up for a header to meet Stephan Lichtsteiner’s lofted cross but his ankle was crushed horribly as he landed.

In distress and in need of oxygen Welbeck left the pitch on a stretcher. His teammates looked shaken. Aaron Ramsey, who has experience of breaks of his own, showed understandable emotion. Mattéo Guendouzi, still in his teens and making his way in the game, was visibly upset.

Welbeck is tremendously popular as well as being valued for what he brings to the squad and it was immensely worrying for a player who has suffered more than his fair share of serious injuries, with two of his five seasons at Arsenal already ravaged by damage to both knees.

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The extent of the England forward’s misfortune feels extra cruel because he is in the last year of his contract. This is the kind of situation where Arsène Wenger felt morally obliged to back his players and offer them encouragement when they needed it most, with extensions offered to Santi Cazorla, Abou Diaby and Tomas Rosicky at their lowest points. Whether Arsenal’s new regime follows suit for a player who has had so much to overcome by the age of 27 remains to be seen.

Unai Emery was certainly sympathetic to Welbeck’s plight. “It is a very big injury for him and for us, for all people who like and love him as a person. The best for him now is to think for the person,” the manager said. “He is a very good person. He helps us with his behaviour and his quality and his capacity.

“The worst news is injuries. He was working well, having a good game, he had a chance to score. When you are playing football, when you are playing competitive matches, it can happen. You don’t want that.

“But that is our profession. When a player is having an injury like that the players on the pitch look at it, and in your mind you are thinking of the player. At the end of the match the players asked for him.”

Refocusing on a match in such a difficult situation clearly was not easy and Arsenal mislaid the zip with which they had started the match. It was a challenge to reset minds on the task in hand at half-time.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came closest to finding a winner for Arsenal.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang came closest to finding a winner for Arsenal. Photograph: Holly Allison/TPI/REX/Shutterstock

Emery was also disappointed to see Lichtsteiner also succumb to injury late in the game as he pulled up with a muscular problem. The defender will be assessed on Friday.

Arsenal strained to find their rhythm. Their beat was slightly off. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who replaced Welbeck, came closest to a winner with an instinctive shot that brushed against the crossbar. The Gabon international was also denied a clear goalscoring opportunity late on when he raced through and was clipped just outside the area, an infringement which saw Jérémy Mathieu sent off.

The result felt overshadowed, which was reasonable considering Arsenal still managed to achieve their initial aim of qualification from Group E. They have two matches remaining, away at Vorskla Poltava and at home to Qarabag, to try to win the group and Emery will consider how much rotation is needed nearer the time. “Our aim is to be the first in the group,” he said.

“Then every match we want the best performance. After this match we are thinking about the match on Sunday against Wolves. This match give us a lot of information for continuing and also some players they need to take responsibility and confidence.”

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