Analysis

#UEL: Three things we noticed

We fought back from two goals down to claim a draw at Standard Liege on Wednesday night – and topped Group F in the process.

Here are three things we noticed from the game in Belgium:

BACK THREE'S BACK, ALRIGHT

Freddie Ljungberg sprang a minor surprise when he opted for a back three for our Group F finale. The head coach went for a 3-4-3 formation with Bukayo Saka reprising a left wing back role that he has filled as an England youth international. "He wasn't very happy with me before the game!" revealed Freddie. Joe Willock and Matteo Guendouzi were stationed in central midfield and that left Reiss Nelson and Emile Smith Rowe supporting Alex Lacazette in a mobile front three. That triumvirate impressed in the first half - with Nelson particularly lively - and it was notable how close they were together. Quick interplay, sharp movement and good decision-making helped us carve out a number of chances, but those combinations dried up after the break when the same three seemed more isolated from each other. That prompted a change of personnel and formation, with Gabriel Martinelli on for Sokratis and a return to a back four. The move worked - it was Martinelli who linked up with Saka for our equaliser.


LIEGE DIFFERENCE

Before tonight, Standard Liege had won just two of their 15 competitive matches against English opposition. Most recently, they succumbed rather meekly to us at Emirates Stadium - thanks largely to an early double from Gabriel Martinelli on his European debut. They were a far tougher nut to crack in Liege. A five-goal win looked fanciful but, for a brief moment, they had a glimmer of hope of qualifying ahead of us. They were inspired by their captain, Paul-José Mpoku, who was once on Tottenham's books. Creative and tenacious, he got into an argument with Matteo Guendouzi before the game had started, clattered the Frenchman in the first minute and then found pockets of space to prompt and probe dangerously. All over the pitch, Standard were feisty, forcing us back and pressing us with intensity. Their energy was matched by their home fans, who made a proper din from start to finish. Together, they made this a real test.


RECORDS PRESERVED

Our record in European competition is nothing if not consistent. Thursday's advance to the last 32 of the Europa League means we have made it through each of our last 17 group stages in major European competition since going out at the second group stage of the 2002/03 Champions League. Saka's timely interventions helped us preserve another long-standing record - we haven't lost back-to-back games within a single season in the UEFA Cup or Europa League since 1996/97, when we lost twice to Borussia Mönchengladbach in September 1996. Arsene Wenger was on the bench for that 3-2 defeat in Germany, although he hadn't officially taken over the manager's job at that point.

 

 

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