Arsenal moved one step closer to finishing in the top spot in Group E of the UEFA Europa League with a scoreless draw against Sporting. The result saw the Gunners secure a top-two spot in the group and a ticket for the next round.
The hosts started well but lost all momentum when Danny Welbeck suffered a gruesome injury that saw him carried off the pitch on a stretcher. After a lengthy stoppage the match petered out, with few chances to speak of for either side.
Sporting finished the match with 10 players after Jeremy Mathieu was sent off for a foul on the edge of the box.
The Gunners have yet to lose in the competition, winning their first three matches. They lead Sporting by three points. Qarabag beat Vorskla in the other Group E contest, so Arsenal have qualified for the next round.
Arsenal Should Offer Welbeck New Deal Despite Injury Record
The result of this match seemed almost secondary after the final whistle, with many turning their attention to the horrible injury Welbeck suffered in the first half.
The England international came down on his ankle and immediately went down in a heap. He needed oxygen and a stretcher to make his way to the sidelines, and the reaction of his team-mates said it all, per sportswriter Mark Mann-Bryans:
It's but the latest in a long line of injury setbacks. Per Transfermarkt.com, Welbeck's injury history is a painful read.
The setback comes at a terrible time on a personal level, as Welbeck will be out of contract in the summer. A few fans wondered whether Thursday's outing was the last time they saw him in an Arsenal shirt:
It shouldn't be. The 27-year-old has proved his ability time and time again and has served as an inspiration with his recovery from multiple injuries. That history would suggest he can do so again here.
The injury may make him a little cheaper to sign for the Gunners, and offering him a new contract would also serve as a great PR move, showing the fans and squad that the club will stand by its players.
A short-term extension would secure Welbeck's immediate future and, if he can once again return to full health, would hand the Gunners some depth at the position for what should be a reasonable price.
Arsenal have long stood by their players in situations like this, including Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard is now thriving at former club Villarreal, but Welbeck's immediate future should lie at the Emirates Stadium, not elsewhere.
Emery Needs to Drop Mkhitaryan for Iwobi
Henrikh Mkhitaryan once again failed to make much of an impact on Thursday, continuing his run of mediocre performances in the Arsenal shirt. The Armenian arrived in the swap deal that sent Alexis Sanchez to Manchester United, but at this point, it would appear both clubs lost in that trade.
The 29-year-old spends too much of his time in a passive role, rather than demanding the ball and making something happen. Sportswriter Alex Shaw thought he was also guilty of it during the weekend against Liverpool:
And while Mkhitaryan fell flat, Alex Iwobi once again flashed his considerable talent, even if it didn't lead to a goal. The Nigerian has been among the team's most improved players under Unai Emery and has seen his playing time steadily increase as a result.
Per WhoScored.com, the 22-year-old still ranks behind Mkhitaryan in minutes played, and the former Borussia Dortmund man has gotten the nod in key matches. That needs to change. Iwobi has earned his shot and carries more long-term upside, so there's no reason to play it safe by going with the underwhelming Mkhitaryan instead.
Arsenal host Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday, the same day Sporting face Chaves.