Premier League

A bruising, painful night for Arsenal that reopened the wounds of 1995 might also win them the title

A bruising, painful night for Arsenal that reopened the wounds of 1995 might also win them the title

Eventually, when the story of this season comes to be written it might just be that this goes down as a crucial night in Arsenal’s greatest season since the Invincibles.

But it’s going to take a while before that possibility of the greater good can be realised because this was agonising. It’s also not really what you want to think about. On a night that served as a glorious reminder of why this is a difficult and worthwhile competition to win in the eyes of everyone outside the often suspicious and airily dismissive English game, you don’t want sensible stuff about clear focus for what will be an exhausting last 10 weeks of the season and the benefits of breaking the preparation-rotting Thursday-Sunday-Thursday cycle.

What a pisser, though. When it came down to the penalty shoot-out it was already clear Arsenal had chosen the most damaging course through the evening, it was just whether it was the most damaging means of progress or the most damaging means of exit. Exit may well yet prove the best outcome for the season as a whole, but for that to be the case the Gunners must go to the well once more and recover emotionally, mentally and physically from this. The 120 minutes of effort here – after 90 minutes of toil in Lisbon – made it clear that the players had no inclination to look for elimination-based silver linings in the fixture list. Arsenal have a miserable record in continental competition for a club of their stature, and this competition offered a huge chance to improve it.

Sporting, who are having an extremely odd season, may well now lay claim to the single best performance by a visiting side at the Emirates during this campaign. Not even City controlled proceedings the way Sporting did during the 90 minutes of high-quality normal time. Arsenal’s lead came against the run of play and Sporting’s equaliser – their absurd Nayim-tinged equaliser – was as astonishing as it was deserved.

It’s a goal that will be talked about for decades, and one Aaron Ramsdale will have to live with. In truth, though, he was not as much at fault as goalkeepers usually are for this kind of nonsense. Yes, he was performatively sweeper-keeping where he needn’t have. But he also got back sufficiently to leave Pedro Goncalves with barely a square foot of space in which to plant his 50-yard strike. Plant it he did. It was a breathtaking goal.

Generally, if we’re honest with ourselves, most goals from at or near the halfway line may be…

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