Europa League hits and misses: Misery for Unai Emery, Jesse Lingard improves
The fifth Europa League group stage matchday brought up several intriguing storylines, while leaving one Premier League manager on thin ice. Here, we run through the talking points...
Last Updated: 29/11/19 12:42pm
The defeat turned out to be Unai Emery's last stand.
Plenty of Arsenal fans stayed away from the Emirates for the 2-1 defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt, but those who did make the trip made their feelings known. Officially, 49,419 tickets were sold but with the naked eye it looked like one of the lowest attendances in the history of a stadium that opened in 2006, especially as there were not meant to be any away fans in the ground.
However, even with such a small crowd, there were 'Emery out' chants audible ahead of kick-off and they only intensified as the hosts slipped to defeat. There were also banners held aloft by the fans. "Emery Out. No tactics, no formation, nowhere to hide," read a number of printed posters and there were plenty of fans voting with their feet as they headed for the exits early.
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It did appear to be the end of the road for Granit Xhaka following his spat with the Arsenal supporters after his substitution during the club's 2-2 draw with Crystal Palace last month.
There looked to be no way back for the Swiss midfielder, who was stripped of the captaincy after swearing at his own supporters after they jeered him from the pitch.
However, he was given a good reception by the home fans after making his first start since then against Eintracht Frankfurt. There were some jeers as his name was read out ahead of kick-off, but he was given a good reception as he left the field and re-entered it following an injury scare during the first half.
He then got the crowd off their seats in the second half after producing an excellent bit of skill to create an opportunity for Calum Chambers. It drew a huge roar from the supporters as they appeared to build bridges with their former captain. It may only be a small first step but on a shocking night for Arsenal and Emery, the return of Xhaka was a positive.
Jesse Lingard would be the first to admit that things have not necessarily gone his way this season at Manchester United. A puzzling character that can dazzle one week and then veer off into obscurity the next, getting the best out of the 26-year-old consistently is something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, like his predecessors, has yet to master.
Lingard's inconsistencies have been well documented ever since he broke through at Old Trafford but it is the lessening of his flamboyant, infectious character this season that has set the alarm bells ringing. Let's not forget, in the not too distant past he was the face of a fresh new era at the club.
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With something clearly wrong, Solskjaer acted, giving Lingard the honour of captaining his boyhood club for the first time against Astana. It produced an instant result.
With a host of debutants following his lead, Lingard rose to the occasion, ending a 10-month goal drought in a timely reminder of the talent he still possesses.
"Jesse was excellent today," Solskjaer said. "He led by example with loads of energy and drive and scored a very good goal. He's been very good the whole trip.
"He's an experienced boy and pleased with his performance. It's good to get Jesse back."
Talk about a game of two halves. It was a case of men against boys in the first period as Feyenoord tore through a nervous-looking Rangers side, who clearly felt the weight of expectation on their shoulders.
But the beauty of football is how quickly things can change, and after Alfredo Morelos' equaliser against the run of play shortly after half-time the momentum swung completely.
Isn't it amazing what a goal can do? The Gers suddenly looked like the side that beat Porto earlier this month and Feyenoord in the reverse fixture in September, and with a striker of the quality of Morelos up front they will have a chance against any side they come up against.
Although they could not quite hold out for the win, the point they earned will be among their most valuable of the season if they can go on and get a positive result against Young Boys in matchday six in the group.
With a sure-to-be electric Ibrox behind them, Steven Gerrard's side will be strong favourites to get through the group now. And if they can do that, the sky is the limit in the knockout stages. Their priority for January, however, is simple: keep hold of the gem that is Morelos.
His bit of star quality is what takes them from a decent side to a very good one, and Gerrard must somehow convince the Colombian to stay put until at least the end of the season.
Upon arriving in the Premier League with Aston Villa in 2015, it was clear to see Adama Traore's potential. His pace and power was undoubted, but Traore was as raw as it gets.
His poor final ball, decision-making, tracking and lack of general cuteness had many predicting he would drop down the leagues. But on Thursday, he showed how far he has come with Nuno Espirito Santo since joining Wolves in 2018.
His acceleration will take him past any defender in the world, and now the 23-year-old has a delivery to compliment it. On several occasions against Braga he picked the correct final ball and was happy to pass backwards when necessary.
It was all a far cry from his first year in the top flight with Villa, where his first and only thought was to pile towards the goalposts, but there is still room to improve. At 3-1 up, Nuno was seen screaming at the youngster to track the full-back and get goal-side.
But above all, there is no doubt that Nuno's high standards are working for this youngster with rockets for legs.
Already through to the knockout stages with two games to spare, Celtic topped their group with ease with a 3-1 win over Rennes, while playing the lesser-spotted Lewis Morgan as a striker. But it was a familiar face who continues to generate confidence.
Neil Lennon's decision to re-sign Fraser Forster looks more inspired with every match. Outstanding against Lazio, he made a superb double save from Flavien Tait and Jordan Siebatcheu to prevent the visitors from staging a comeback.
In a Scottish Premiership title race where every goal scored and conceded may be crucial, Forster's presence has helped solidify what was a shaky Celtic defence earlier in the season.
The home fans were out-sung by a travelling support whose team were already out of the tournament - and there was a party atmosphere as the 2,000 Rennes supporters joined in the Celtic songs and even formed a 'huddle' that swept around the stadium.
When Ryan Christie scored a second on the stroke of half-time, this already felt over as a contest, but it was Forster's safe pair of hands that guided Celtic to a fourth straight Europa League win
When is the Europa League draw?
The draw for the last 32 of the Europa League takes place on Monday December 16 in Nyon, with proceedings set to start at 12pm, UK time.
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