Paris (AFP) – Arsenal booked a place in the Europa League knockout stage and extended their unbeaten run to 15 matches despite a 0-0 draw with Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, while Olivier Giroud’s first goal of the season sent Chelsea through.
Unai Emery’s Gunners were the better side for long periods at the Emirates against a team who have already had three different managers this term, but had to settle for a point.
But Arsenal did secure a last-32 spot regardless, as Vorskla Poltava lost 1-0 at home to Azeri outfit Qarabag in the other Group E game.
A drab first half was delayed for several minutes when Danny Welbeck, given a rare start just hours after being named in Gareth Southgate’s England squad, had to be stretchered off with what looked a nasty injury after seeing a header saved by Renan Ribeiro.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Welbeck’s replacement, had the first real opening of the game but volleyed wide from just a few yards out early in the second half.
Arsenal continued to press for a winner but failed to find a way through the Sporting defence as Henrikh Mkhitaryan saw an effort saved at point-blank range by Ribeiro and Aubameyang was denied by a flying block.
Sporting were reduced to 10 men late on when former Barcelona centre-back Jeremy Mathieu brought down Aubameyang, but the Gabon forward blasted the resulting free-kick over the bar.
– Giroud ends drought –
Chelsea made it four wins from four matches in Group L by edging out a spirited BATE Borisov 1-0 in Belarus.
Giroud ended his 11-game goal drought this season by giving Chelsea a 53rd-minute lead, and the Premier League giants held on despite BATE striking the woodwork three times in the match.
“I was hoping to score soon because I came back late from the World Cup and I was lacking maybe a bit of efficiency and luck but you always need to keep working hard and keep the faith and that’s what happened tonight,” France striker Giroud told BT Sport.
The Londoners moved six points clear of Hungarians Vidi at the top of the group and have not tasted defeat in 17 matches since losing the Community Shield to Manchester City in August.
– Gerrard finally beaten in Europe –
Steven Gerrard’s Rangers saw their 11-game unbeaten run in this year’s Europa League come to a dramatic end as they threw away the lead three times in a 4-3 defeat at Spartak Moscow.