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