Wel­beck hor­ror

Arse­nal striker taken to hos­pi­tal with sus­pected bro­ken an­kle af­ter grue­some in­jury

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Front Page - By Sam Dean at the Emi­rates

Arse­nal 0 Sport­ing Lisbon 0

On pa­per at least, this was an­other step for­ward for Unai Emery’s Arse­nal, who have achieved their pri­mary ob­jec­tive of qual­i­fy­ing for the Europa League knock­out stages. The re­al­ity, though, is that any feel­ing of tri­umph was wiped away by a trau­matic and se­vere in­jury to Danny Wel­beck, a striker of re­lent­lessly bad for­tune.

Wel­beck’s lat­est in­jury, a sus­pected bro­ken an­kle, saw him rushed to hos­pi­tal while his team­mates were still play­ing and still try­ing to come to terms with the sight of their striker writhing in agony in the penalty area.

Some of the Arse­nal play­ers were vis­i­bly af­fected by the in­ci­dent, which was as in­nocu­ous as these things come. Wel­beck chal­lenged for a header and sim­ply landed awk­wardly. At first, it seemed un­clear what had hap­pened. Within mo­ments, he had an oxy­gen mask strapped to his face.

“It is the worst news tonight,” said Emery, who added that the “men­tal­ity” of his play­ers had been af­fected by Wel­beck’s de­par­ture.

In­deed, there can be no deny­ing that it changed the mood at the Emi­rates and the tone of the per­for­mance against a Sport­ing Lisbon side who cel­e­brated a point as if it were a his­toric vic­tory.

“When one player is hav­ing an in­jury like that, the play­ers on the pitch, they look at this in­jury,” said Emery. “First in your mind is to think for the player, but then the play­ers were con­cen­trated for the match.”

Arse­nal had come into this be­liev­ing that a win would be needed to guar­an­tee their qual­i­fi­ca­tion from the group stages, but the de­feat of Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava by Qarabag meant that this soli­tary point 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 cal­en­dar year, but in­stead the loss of Wel­beck – and a later mus­cu­lar in­jury to full­back Stephan Licht­steiner – will leave Emery’s squad feel­ing the strain.

The tim­ing of Wel­beck’s in­jury only adds to the 27-year-old’s mis­for­tune. The striker was ear­lier named in Gareth South­gate’s Eng­land squad for the up­com­ing matches against the United States and Croa­tia, and it also comes with his con­tract set to ex­pire at the end of the sea­son. A lengthy ab­sence will cast more doubt over his longterm fu­ture as an Arse­nal player.

It was too soon for Emery to elab­o­rate on whether the in­jury would af­fect the club’s think­ing when it comes to Wel­beck’s con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions. “The best for him now is to think for the per­son,” said Emery. “He is a very good per­son. He is com­mit­ted ev­ery day and helps us with his be­hav­iour and qual­ity. This is a very big in­jury for him, for us all, for peo­ple who love him like a per­son.”

Away from Wel­beck, the tar­get is now for Arse­nal to fin­ish at the top of their group and avoid a more chal­leng­ing knock­out tie. They travel to Ukraine at the end of this month know­ing that a win would guar­an­tee their sta­tus as group win­ners. “To­day was not enough but we are in our tar­get to be first,” Emery said.

The match had be­gun with Wel­beck at the forefront of Arse­nal’s best moves. He com­bined nicely with 18-year-old Emile Smith Rowe, and al­most forced an own goal from Sport­ing’s Jeremy Mathieu.

Af­ter Wel­beck’s de­par­ture, there

was a lack of clear open­ings un­til the sec­ond half, when Pierre-em­er­ick Aubameyang grazed the top of the bar with a close-range ef­fort.

Smith Rowe con­tin­ued to cause prob­lems with his di­rect run­ning, but the na­ture of Wel­beck’s in­jury ap­peared to have sapped some of the home side’s vigour. That said, they re­mained a class above Sport­ing, who had sacked man­ager Jose Pe­seiro in be­tween this fix­ture and their meet­ing with Arse­nal in Lisbon last month. It was only the in­jury to Licht­steiner, who pulled up when chas­ing a through ball down the right wing, that threat­ened to dis­rupt the home side’s rhythm.

Arse­nal’s hopes were boosted when Mathieu hacked the sprint­ing Aubameyang to the ground in the fi­nal mo­ments, an of­fence for which he saw a straight red card. But Aubameyang sent the re­sult­ing free kick high into the stands, and that was to be that on a dif­fi­cult night.

In­jury fear: Danny Wel­beck twists awk­wardly as he lands af­ter jump­ing for a header

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