Arsenal 3 Vitoria Guimaraes 0
(Martinelli 32), Pépé 80, 92)  (Edwards 8, Duarte 36)

Nicolas Pepe came off the substitutes bench to deliver two stunning free kicks to score, for the win over Vitoria Guimaraes which keeps Arsenal on top of Group F. Trailing 2-1 after 75 minutes, Pepe replaced Alexandre Lacazette, and five minutes later, the Gunners were level. The Ivory Coast striker has taken his time to get to grips with the the English game, and had only netted once,  from the penalty spot since his £72m summer arrival from Lille. That changed when he struck a sweet free kick to beat Miguel Silva from twenty yards. With time running out, the Gunners seemed to have rescued a point. Camden born, former Spurs player Marcus Edwards struck after eight minutes to give the visitors a shock opener. Vitoria were good value for their lead, their technical game and movement off the ball ensured that skipper for the night Hector Bellerin would have to get his players up for the fight.

Gabriel Martinelli has been in great goal scoring form, and when the 18 year old headed in his fifth goal in only his third start, from Kieran Tirenery’s cross, matters seemed in hand. However the 1-1 scoreline would only last for four minutes. That was the time it took Vitoria’s Bruno Duarte to first rattle Emiliano Martinez’s post before following up to restore his side’s lead and deservedly so. There were boos at half time, and before that, on 26 minutes the chant ” We’ve got Ozil, Mesut Ozil,” rang in Unai Emery’s ears as he stood, concerned on the touchline. The Arsenal head coach hadn’t selected Ozil for a squad place.

Following the break, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were replaced by Dani Ceballos and Matteo Guendouzi respectively. The midfield now had more of an edge and began asking questions of the Vitoria defence, who up until the point had looked comfortable, with the giant Edmond Tapsoba especially enjoying his night in N5.

With Guendouzi now picking his way past the Vitoria lines, Arsenal began to create chances. Shkodran Mustafi and Rob Holding had chances to level, before, with ten minutes remaining, Pepe did.

Monday’s Premier League loss at Sheffield United had done nothing to defy the notion that Arsenal lack fight. On that night, Pepe totally missed his effort from eight yards out with a poor connection. It was the sort of chance that he would probably bury in his sleep. Here at the Emirates and from a free lick and further out, awarded when Lucas Torreira was impeded,  he did just that to bring the Gunners back to 2-2.

Duarte almost grabbed an immediate reply, but it was Guendouzi whose pace and direct running had sprung Arsenal back into this match, earned another free kick deep into injury time. Both he and Pepe were in conversation as to what to do, but it was a case of deja vu which sealed the game for the Gunners. From a little further out that his first free kick, Pepe stepped up and struck the ball to the same side, Silva’s right to achieve the same outcome. Another spectacular strike, now his third for the Gunners which earned another Europa League win.

The result takes a little pressure off Emery who must now get his side to build on the winning momentum in Sunday’s Premier League clash against Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Sunday.

Emery was pleased to see Pepe inspire Arsenal to the win, acknowledging that the goals will boost his confidence while adding, “Every player, usually, they need time to adapt. Pepe is a very good player and we believe in him, totally. The way he’s going, sometimes he feels better, sometimes it’s with more difficulty on the pitch. It depends on the opponent. He’s improving and tonight those two goals are really important for us first, and then secondly for him. He’s continuing the adaptation in his process and as soon as he can adapt, that’s better for us.”

Emery was less forthcoming on Ozil’s omission, “I prefer to speak about the match. We have all the players who played. He’s not in the squad. That is the decision tonight. Now we are going to work towards Sunday.”

Another good performance on Sunday will be expected as Arsenal attempt to kick start their top four finish ambitions.