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Pepe’s perfect free-kicks save Arsenal

Substitute comes off the bench to turn the tide with two sublime set-pieces

25 October, 2019 — By Paul Cowling at the Emirates Stadium

Europa League: Group F

ARSENAL 3 (Martinelli 32, Pepe 80, 90+2)
VITORIA GUIMARAES 2 (Edwards 8, Duarte 36)

ARSENAL were booed off at half time, but cheered to the Emirates rafters at the final whistle after two Nicolas Pepe free-kicks gave the Gunners an undeserved, last-gasp win against Vitoria Guimaraes tonight (Thursday).

Pepe’s £72m record-transfer from Lille had been met with much excitement back in the summer by Gunners fans, but a few fleeting glances of his potential were all supporters had seen from the Ivorian up until he came off the bench against Vitoria.

Head coach Unai Emery called for the attacking midfielder in the 75 minutes, with the Gunners losing 2-1 having twice fallen behind to the attack-minded visitors, and Pepe responded with two sublime set-pieces.

“It’s important for Pepe. He can gain confidence from tonight,” said Emery after the final whistle. “When he scores it’s good for him and the team.

“He’s getting better, playing minutes, and now scoring goals like tonight. He helped us tonight to win this match,” added the Spanish coach.

Emery made a whole team of changes from the side that lost away to Sheffield United on Monday night in the Premier League.

Along with Pepe and Gabriel Martinelli, Emery brought back the much vaunted defensive trio of Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding and Kieran Tierney, along with Shkodran Mustafi. Arsenal looked anything but assured as the visitors took the game to the Gunners from the kick off.

It came as little surprise when Vitoria took the lead through a former Tottenham Academy graduate who silenced the home fans with that eighth-minute opener.

Marcus Edwards, who was brought up in Camden, neatly turned Bellerin before drilling the ball past Emiliano Martínez in the Gunners’ goal.

Arsenal were simply dreadful for the first half hour, but they slowly clicked into second gear and were level on 32 minutes when Martinelli headed home from Tierney’s cross.

But just as it looked as if Emery’s side were starting to fire, they were hit by a sucker punch when four minutes after equalising Bruno Duarte restored the visitors’ lead, pouncing on a rebound to send Arsenal into the half-time break a goal behind.

The score stayed 2-1 until the 80th minute when, five minutes after coming off the bench, Pepe found the back of the net with a curling effort from 25 yards.

He repeated the feat in stoppage time as Arsenal turned the game around to make it three wins out of three in the Europa League and retain their place at the top of Group F.

ARSENAL: Martinez; Bellerin, Mustafi, Holding, Tierney; Torreira, Willock (Ceballos, 45); Maitland-Niles (Guendouzi, 45), Smith-Rowe, Martinelli; Lacazette (Pepe, 75)

Substitutes not used: Leno, Chambers, Kolasinac, Saka

VITORIA GUIMARAES: Miguel Silva; Victor Garcia, Venancio, Tapsoba, Hanin; Andre Almeida (Pepe, 64), Agu, Poha; Edwards (Pereira, 70), Duarte, Davidson (Costa Rocha, 87)

Substitutes not used: Douglas, Henrique, Bonatini, Al Musrati,

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