Pepe to the rescue as Gunners beat Vitoria
Vitoria Guimaraes 2
Two late free-kick goals from record signing Nicolas Pepe gave Arsenal a 3-2 win against Vitoria Guimaraes at the Emirates this evening.
The Gunners looked to have been heading for a 2-1 defeat against the Portuguese, who twice took the lead – first through former Spurs player Marcus Edwards, then, after Gabriel Martinelli’s fifth goal in three Arsenal starts, from Bruno Duarte.
But £72m man Pepe, introduced as a late substitute for Alexandre Lacazette, then at last kick-started his Gunners career, with two left-footed free-kicks in the final 10 minutes - the winner coming in injury time.
It was incredibly tough on Vitoria, who for much of the game were the better team, despite failing to score a goal or take a point from their first two Europa League group games this season.
The goal fest began on eight minutes, when Edwards, who left Spurs this summer after once being compared to Lionel Messi by Maurcio Pochettino, controlled Victor Garcia’s right wing cross, worked it on to his right foot and fired past Emiliano Martinez in the Arsenal net.
It was a goal the away side thoroughly warranted, and the lead could soon have been doubled when Andre Almeida was given too much space by the Arsenal midfield and his shot was blocked by Rob Holding.
Arsenal finally came to life after 16 minutes, when good link-up play between Emile Smith Rowe and Lacazette, playing the latest game in his recovery from injury, ended with a shot from Smith Rowe which was blocked by the Vitoria defence.
Soon after Hector Bellerin, another making a recent return from injury, fired in a low cross, but Martinez failed to turn it goalwards.
Just after the half-hour the Gunners were level, when Brazilian Martinez continued his fine run of scoring. From Kieran Tierney’s measured left-wing cross, Martinelli outjumped goalkeeper Miguel Silva, and the ball fell into the empty net.
Arsenal could have taken the lead immediately from the restart, but Joe Willock’s shot was deflected wide.
But just when it looked like the Gunners’ nerves had been settled, Vitoria took the lead again. Ainsley Maitland-Niles lost the ball in a crucial central area to Davidson, who moved forward and rifled a shot against the right-hand post - Bruno Duarte turning the rebound into the empty net.
And just before the break Davidson could have made it 3-1 to the Portuguese side, but his right-footed shot was just wide of the right-hand post.
Under fire Gunners boss Unai Emery made two changes at half-time, replacing Maitland-Niles and Willock with Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi, but in truth the substitutions failed to spark the Gunners into life.
Shkodran Mustafi headed over from a Dani Ceballos header before Denis Poha’s flicked shot was saved by Martinez at the other end. Then when Tierney’s left wing cross was deflected back to Martinelli in the box, the youngster should have scored but succeeded only in shinning the ball wide of the right-hand post.
At the other end Matinez flapped at – and missed - an in-swinging corner which almost curled straight in, before Almeida had another effort deflected wide by Holding.
Then came the moment which turned the game, the introduction of Pepe, just when it looked like it was not going to be Arsenal’s day.
On 80 minutes the Ivorian curled a 25-yarder into the bottom left with his left foot, then, with virtually the last kick of the game, did the same into the top left, sending the Emirates wild.
Arsenal: Martinez, Bellerin, Tierney, Lacazette (yellow, Pepe), Torreira, Maitland-Niles (Ceballos), Holding, Mustafi (yellow), Willock (Guendouzi), Smith Rowe, Martinelli
Vitoria: Silva, Vanancio, Tapsoba (yellow), Garcia, Edwards (Pereira), Agu, Poha (yellow), Hanin, Almeida (Pepe), Davidson (Rochinha), Duarte
Referee: Serdar Gozubuyuk (Holland)