Standard Liege vs Arsenal. UEFA Europa League Group F.
Stade de SclessinAttendance21,797.
Report as the Gunners secure seeding for Monday's last-32 draw in Nyon
Friday 13 December 2019 06:26, UK
Arsenal progressed to the last 32 of the Europa League as Group F winners after late goals from Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka rescued a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege.
The Gunners only needed to avoid defeat by five goals to book their spot in the knockout stages, but for much of the night they were heading to Monday's draw as an unseeded team after Standard Liege took a two-goal lead thanks to deflected strikes in the second half from Samuel Bastien (47) and Selim Amallah (69).
With Eintracht Frankfurt leading Vitoria Guimaraes 2-1 until the 85th minute in the group's other game, second spot was looking likely for Arsenal, but goals from Lacazette (78) and Saka (81), coupled with Vitoria's late turnaround in Germany to win 3-2, saw Freddie Ljungberg's side rescue a point and reclaim top spot.
The result means Arsenal, who face Manchester City live on Sky Sports on Super Sunday, will be seeded for Monday's last-32 draw in Nyon, while Standard Liege, who needed to win to have any chance of progressing, exit the competition.
Backed by their passionate home support, Standard Liege, who knew they needed a win to stand any chance of progressing to knockout stages, started brightly but most of Arsenal's problems came from their own doing.
Konstantinos Mavropanos' slack pass gifted possession to Mehdi Carcela on the edge of the penalty area, but luckily for the Gunners the Standard Liege forward scuffed his shot straight into the arms of Emiliano Martinez.
Arsenal: Martinez (6), Sokratis (6), Mavropanos (5), Luiz (6), Maitland-Niles (6), Willock (6), Saka (8), Nelson (5), Lacazette (6), Smith Rowe (7).
Subs: Subs: Martinelli (7), Chambers (6), Aubameyang (n/a).
Man of the match: Bukayo Saka.
Arsenal eventually grew into the game and created a number of chances to take the lead. After Emile Smith Rowe had seen his cross-shot turned away by the foot of goalkeeper Arnaud Bodart, Saka had three excellent opportunities to put Arsenal ahead but failed to beat the in-form keeper.
As the half-time whistle approached, Saka saw an effort from the left of the box saved before Bodart produced another smart stop to keep out Reiss Nelson's goal-bound effort.
Arsenal made the worst possible start to the second half, falling behind just two minutes in when Bastien's strike took a huge deflection off Sokratis Papastathopoulos, wrong-footing goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez and looping into the back of the net.
Things got even worse for the Gunners as they found themselves 2-0 down in the 69th minute following another deflected effort from the hosts. Joe Willock gifted possession to Amallah in the middle of the penalty area and the midfielder's shot took another big deflection to beat Martinez.
Buoyed by the goals, Standard Liege sensed something special, but it was Arsenal, who brought on Gabriel Martinelli, that found a response.
Arsenal interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg made nine alterations to his side from the win at West Ham.
A three-man defence saw a recall for David Luiz and a first appearance since May for Konstantinos Mavropanos. Bukayo Saka, Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock returned in midfield while Alexandre Lacazette captained the side, playing in attack alongside Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson.
Ljungberg's side levelled things up at 2-2 courtesy of two quickfire goals from Saka and Lacazette.
Saka created the first, sending in an inch-perfect cross which Lacazette headed into the net from close range to give the Gunners a lifeline.
And the 18-year-old then got on the scoresheet himself as he fired in from the edge of the area after exchanging passes with Martinelli to secure Arsenal a point, which was enough to see them finish top of Group F after Vitoria's win in Frankfurt.
Arsenal youngster Saka played a key role in his side's comeback, setting up Lacazette before finding the back of the net himself to secure a point.
On a different night could have added to his tally after being denied on a couple of occasions by smart saves from Standard Liege goalkeeper Bodart.
It was a performance that impressed Arsenal's interim head coach.
"He was amazing," Ljungberg said in his post-match press conference. "He was a bit upset with me before the game that he had to play wing-back and full-back. He's a tremendous talent.
"His final ball and last bit is always effective. Bukayo had a tremendous night."
Saka: "It was beautiful for me because that is what I am judged on, scoring and assisting, so to score and to make one is a good night.
"It's a good feeling [finishing top] because on the pitch we didn't know [the result in the Frankfurt game] and were pushing for the third goal to try to win the game but Freddie was trying to tell us that Frankfurt were down. Everyone came into the changing room after and found out we were top of the group.
"We feel we are taking a lot of confidence. In our last game in the Premier League we won, and while we didn't win here we came back. We always keep our heads and try to get a result because we knew what the stakes were and that if we lost we could possibly be out."
Arsenal interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg: "We played really well to our game plan in the first half. They didn't have any shots on target. We should have maybe been one or two up at half-time. We got sucker-punched a bit, they scored two deflected goals... you can't really slam the players for that. We could have folded but we didn't. 2-2, we could have got a 3-2 but I had the information about the other score, so we didn't go too hard."
On the character of the team, he added: "It's tremendous. I'm really proud of them. They showed belief in how they can play football. It's good for us in the future. The energy, they go and go. They don't stop."
Arsenal host Manchester City at 4.30pm on Super Sunday - live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm.