Arsenal’s gruelling night as Facundo Pellistri shows promise – Europa League & Europa Conference League hits & misses

Could Arsenal’s gruelling night hurt them?

Image: Gabriel Martinelli is comforted by team-mates after missing his spot-kick

This competition was not Arsenal’s priority but the question now is whether the manner of their exit, on penalties after a draining 120 minutes of toing and froing at the Emirates Stadium, will impact their Premier League title charge.

Mikel Arteta rotated his side, handing Gabriel Jesus a first start following his return from injury and including back-up options such as Jorginho, Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira, but the team that finished the game featured Thomas Partey, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka.

There were all needed and so too were Rob Holding and Ben White, with Takehiro Tomiyasu and, more worryingly, William Saliba, succumbing to injuries in the first half. By the end, numerous players were cramping, their fatigue clear to see.

  • Report: Arsenal out of Europa League after shootout defeat by Sporting
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

This was Arsenal’s sixth game in a period of just 20 days and while the result ensures a lighter schedule in the final months of the season, the fact the tie went the full distance adds to the challenge they face against Crystal Palace on Sunday.

Inwardly, Arteta may feel relieved he did not start Saka, Odegaard and Partey, all of whom have shouldered a heavy workload in recent weeks, but others, such as Gabriel Martinelli and Granit Xhaka, will doubtless feel exhausted – mentally, perhaps, as well as physically.

Martinelli will need to pick himself up from the disappointment of missing the decisive penalty and a similar challenge might also await Aaron Ramsdale, who was beaten from near the halfway line for Pedro Goncalves’ audacious equaliser.

Also See:

  • Europa League fixtures

  • Europa League results

  • Europa Conference League fixtures

  • Europa Conference League results

On top of all that, Arteta will be concerned by Arsenal’s collective performance. For long periods, they were comprehensively outplayed. Was that because their focus lay elsewhere? Or was it indicative of a dip in form to come? The answer could define their season.
Nick Wright

Jesus’ timely return?

Image: Gabriel Jesus (right) returned to Arsenal's starting line-up for the first time since December

Arsenal’s squad will wake up on Friday feeling the pain of Europa League defeat to Sporting – but also the strain of that epic tie and the tough run of games which had preceded it. Mikel Arteta and his physios may be counting the cost in the treatment room.

But there was one boost which shouldn’t be overlooked amid all the drama of Thursday night: the return of Gabriel Jesus. It was a prominent story pre-match but faded out of the conversation as goals were scored, chances missed, a red card shown and a penalty saved. But it could be a crucial moment in Arsenal’s Premier League title pursuit.

  • Europa League fixtures | Results
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As planned, Jesus was given just the first 45 minutes on his first start since November; Arteta reluctant to overwork that knee which was operated on. But in that first half, the Brazilian showed flashes of what made him such an asset to Arsenal in their race to the top of the table.

The enthusiastic, energetic pressing from the front. The link-up play. The fouls won around the box. It was all there.

A miscued finish from Reiss Nelson’s cross may have hinted at some understandable rustiness in front of goal but that too will come, with Jesus surely set for more minutes against Palace this weekend before making further progress during the international break.

His team-mates may need some picking up after this exit but Jesus can provide Arsenal with an important boost as they gather themselves for the Premier League run-in.
Peter Smith

Pellistri shows promise on first Man Utd start

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Facundo Pellistri was long overdue his first Manchester United start 892 days after signing from Uruguayan club Atletico Penarol.

Having found it tough to make the matchday squad before the World Cup, Pellistri has earned his place in the team with some exciting cameos off the bench in recent weeks.

Pellistri couldn’t reach those heights on a difficult night for United in Spain on Thursday, but he created some bright moments and did enough to convince Erik ten Hag that he can be trusted.

  • Report: Rashford scores as Man Utd reach EL quarter-finals
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats
  • Who can Man Utd face in EL QF draw?

The Uruguay international, who played in all three of his nation’s matches at the World Cup, also struck the post in first-half stoppage-time as he came close to scoring his first United goal.

Now Alejandro Garnacho is out for the next few weeks at least there is an opportunity for Pellistri to provide much-needed cover and an impact off the bench as United continue to fight on three fronts this season and contend with a gruelling fixture schedule.

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Pellistri also brings the added bonus of being able to play on the right, which allows Marcus Rashford to play in his favoured left-wing position and brings some balance to United’s attack.

There has been talk of a potential third loan move next season for Pellistri next season but this final period of the season could be his chance to show Ten Hag he is worthy of keeping at Old Trafford.

The 21-year-old, who has one assist to his name this season, must start contributing in the final third if he is to earn more minutes and remain ahead of the likes of Anthony Elanga in the pecking order.
Zinny Boswell

West Ham must replicate ECL form domestically

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David Moyes called West Ham’s win over AEK Larnaca as a ‘professional job’.

The comprehensive 4-0 home victory over AEK Larnaca made it a perfect 10 wins out of 10 for West Ham in the Europa Conference League. It is form they have to translate to the Premier League.

David Moyes’ side do not play this weekend and could find themselves in the relegation zone come the international break if results go against them.

  • Report: West Ham 4-0 AEK Larnaca
  • ECL QF & SF draw: Who could West Ham face?
  • How the teams lined up | Match stats

The Irons have to produce more performances like this domestically to pull away from trouble, starting when they return to action on April 2 when they face a crucial game against bottom side Southampton at home.

Could Gianluca Scamacca start in that one? The £35.5m striker certainly put his case forward in the win over Larnaca as he scored and then had the shot which was parried into Jarrod Bowen’s path for West Ham’s second.

Image: Gianluca Scamacca celebrates opening the scoring for West Ham against AEK Larnaca

The Italian has been an unused substitute in West Ham’s last four Premier League matches but his performance on Thursday night has given Moyes food for thought over the international break.

“He’s a really good lad and did a lot of good things tonight,” Moyes said. “Hopefully it will bring him on.”

Image: Jarrod Bowen scored twice for West Ham against AEK Larnaca

The Scot will also be encouraged by Bowen’s double as the Englishman ended an eight-game goalless run to boost his confidence and form heading into next month.

April sees West Ham face three fellow relegation strugglers in what is a crunch period for the east Londoners.

Moyes will be hoping his side can finally replicate their European form in the Premier League after the international break.

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