After a disappointing outing in the league on Monday night, Unai Emery’s men looked to return to winning ways at the expense of Primeira Liga’s Vitoria SC. At first glance, many would have viewed this match as a cakewalk for the Gunners, but respect was quickly established as the fourth-best team in Portugal proved to be a worthy opponent.
Much to the surprise of everyone, Vitoria took the lead in the 8th minute, as Marcus Edwards slotted home from close range. It took the Gunners a while to respond, with Gabriel Martinelli equalizing 24 minutes later.
However, they found themselves behind again just four minutes later as Bruno Duarte smashed home a rebound off the post. The game would stay 2-1 to the visitors until Nicolas Pepe showed a moment of brilliance with a long-range free-kick in the 80th minute.
The Ivorian wasn’t finished there, as he scored another free-kick deep into stoppage time to seal all three points for the Gunners.
Here are five talking points from Arsenal’s 3-2 win over Vitoria Guimaraes.
#5 Marcus Edwards comes to the party
At one point in time, Marcus Edwards was considered the next big thing in England. But despite still being young, the former Tottenham academy player’s career has had a slight dip.
He is now using this stint in Portuguese football to regain his confidence. Lest we forget, this is a youngster that has represented England at every level from U16 to U20.
After being loaned out by Tottenham for two consecutive seasons, the Spurs decided to finally sell him in the summer to Vitoria Guimaraes. And maybe today could be the start of a revival for the 20-year-old.
On his return to London, the Camden-born represented his Tottenham roots well. Not only did he score a memorable goal in which dribbled past both Hector Bellerín and Kieran Tierney, but his overall performance was also exemplary.
This is a night the talented youngster will never forget.
#4 No Özil…again
It’s almost becoming a running gag now. Every single time an Arsenal line-up is announced, fans instantly look for the German’s name. The topic has sometimes overshadowed Arsenal’s performances, with fans wondering how Unai Emery can justify such a decision whilst not delivering results.
It’s no secret that Emery and the World Cup winner have had their issues. The fans were hoping that this would have been put to bed considering the team’s embarrassing collapse towards the end of last season. However, the Spaniard is a stubborn man and he clearly feels Mesut Özil is not worthy of his matchday squad.
Tonight, Arsenal’s performance proved more than ever that they need him. Although Ozil has only featured twice this season, he has still been Arsenal’s fifth most creative player.
How long will Emery continue to justify this blatant scapegoating?
#3 Gabriel Martinelli keeps shining
In a match where his co-workers didn’t seem bothered or interested, Gabriel Martinelli proved to be Arsenal’s only shining light. The youngster once again found himself on the scoresheet, netting his fifth goal in his sixth appearance this season.
Martinelli’s tireless work rate was infectious, and a joy to watch. His strike partner Alexandre Lacazette was clearly not up to match fitness, so the 18-year-old had to do twice the amount of work in attack and off the ball.
In another performance filled with hunger and passion, Martinelli completed two successful take-ons, won one aerial, completed 80% of his passes, created one chance and scored a crucial goal.
It’s unfortunate for the youngster that he’s at Arsenal at a time when Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Lacazette are both there too. But with performances like these, he may well force his way into the team regardless.
#2 Is Unai Emery’s reign nearing the end?
Earlier this week, Unai Emery revealed to the whole world how much he’s feeling the pressure of the job. After an embarrassing performance against Sheffield United, the Spaniard came out firing in his press conference.
The Arsenal manager responded to the criticism by defending his team’s mentality and stating how they are now more competitive. But you have to wonder whether he’s watching the same performances the rest of us are.
This is a man that promised the Arsenal faithful possession and pressing. But tonight, Vitoria dominated the Gunners at the Emirates for the majority of the game.
For a manager that wanted more aggression and creativity from his team, he clearly didn’t pass on that memo. Every time the Portuguese team came forward, they caused Arsenal’s backline problems.
Consistently poor performances like these against lower quality opposition will eventually spell the end of Emery’s reign at the Emirates. Tonight won’t do much to aid the Spaniard’s faltering reputation.
#1 The Nicolas Pepe show
It’s been a tough start to life in England for Nicolas Pepe. The £72million signing arrived in London with high expectations and a massive transfer fee to match.
After only showing a few glimpses of brilliance this season, many were starting to write off the 24-year-old, comparing him with the likes of Daniel James. However, when Arsenal truly needed him, the Ivorian stepped up.
When he came on in the 75th minute, his team were struggling to string together three passes in the final third. Pepe changed that.
He added a new intensity in attack, dribbling past players and looking to play at a faster pace. The exclamation point of his game-changing cameo was the conversion of two long-range free-kicks.
Pepe took two of them and smashed both past Silva, to turn the game completely on its head. Perhaps we can mark tonight as the night Pepe announced himself to English football.