A team of mixed levels of experience turned out for the Arsenal. A back four of Hector Bellerin, Shkodran Mustafi, Rob Holding, and Kieran Tierney started. Lucas Torreira started in midfield and Alexandre Lacazette was up front. All of which suggests these players these players will not feature against Crystal Palace on Sunday. Oh dear. There was still promising youth in the shape of Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Emile Smith Rowe, and Gabriel Martinelli.
In the 4th minute Vitoria Guimaraes had the first shot on target which thankfully was straight at Emilano Martinez. Four minutes later they had the lead when Marcus Edwards, ironically a one-time Middlesex academy player, added insult to injury with a comfortable strike from pretty close range without one of the experienced Gunners defenders close enough to distract him or block the effort This wasn’t in the script, was it?.
As twenty minutes approached The Arsenal remembered that they have been playing well in the cup competitions with pretty much this team. Smith Rowe’s effort was blocked. Lacazette also had an effort blocked. All the time though the visitors, though less effective, were looking a threat.
Just past the half hour we were level, and who else but the astonishing Martinelli who got it with a smart header. Guess who provided the assist. Yes, Keiran Tierney with an inch-perfect cross from the left flank.1-1, we were on our way, weren’t we?
No. Nine minutes before the break Edwards hit the left hand post, Martinez was up quickly, but the ball fell to Duarte who powered a drive inside the near post of the motionless Martinez. Hang on a minute, what was going on here? 1-2 to Vitoria.
At half-time Unai Emery decided changes were in order. Off came Willock and Maitland-Niles to be replaced by Matteo Guendouzi and Dani Ceballos. Harsh on the youngsters? Time would tell.
The first chance of the half fell to Mustafi who climbed high enough to win a header from a set piece but directed his header wide of the mark. Another excellent cross from Tierney was deflected to Smith Rowe who unfortunately sliced the ball wide of the far post. Just before an hour had passed handbags broke out. Lacazette hit the deck knowing that Garcia had leaned towards him with the head and over came our new breed of feisty players to remonstrate. Garcia got a yellow card and on we went.
Sixteen minutes remains when Lacazette again went down claiming a foul just outside the area. Again he remonstrated with the referee as he had when Garcia unquestionably fouled him prior to the handbags incident. The referee had had enough of his histrionics and booked him. Within a minute he was hooked to make way for Nicolas Pepe. Four minutes later we had a glimpse of why Pepe was worth so much. His magnificent free-kick found the bottom corner of the net. We were level again,
We were alive agin, Martinelli’s left footed shot from the centre of the box brought a wonderful block by Vitoria’s goalkeeper, Mustafi again missed the target with a header. The hunger and spirit had returned. As we approached the last of three added minutes Guendouzi was fouled on the edge, Ceballos stood over the ball, but only one man was taking this kick. Pepe advanced and repeated his previous strike.
3-2 to the Arsenal. What an astonishing strike again!