Arsenal maintained their 100 percent record in the Europa League with a stunning come-from-behind 3-2 win against Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes, whereas Manchester United registered their first away win in 12 games with a tense 1-0 win over Partizan Belgrade.
Arsenal were helped in the late moments by Nicolas Pepe, who struck twice with wonderful free kicks to hand Arsenal three points. Marcus Edwards out Vitoria ahead inside 10 minutes into the match, only to be negated by Gabriel Martinelli, who scored a header in the 32nd minute. However, Vitoria acquired back the lead just four minutes later with Bruno Duarte cashed in on a rebound and found the net.
Pepe came off the bench and with merely 10 minutes to go, converted a free kick from 20 yard for his second goal since joining the club. With the match in stoppage time, Pepe delivered the winner for Arsenal turning a near-identical free kick into the back of the net, which beat Miguel Silva to trigger wild celebrations.
“He can gain confidence from tonight. When he scores it’s good for him and the team. He’s getting better and he helped us tonight to win this match,” said Arsenal head coach Unai Emery. “Pepe is a very good player and we believe in him totally. We are very happy for him and us because he has two goals and two set-pieces which are perfect.
“He is improving and tonight he has two goals, which are important for us and for him. We didn’t play like we wanted but we showed good spirit. It’s a good victory.”
But while the coach praised Pepe for his effort, captain Hector Bellerin believes there were plenty of areas Arsenal needed to improve on.
“There’s lots of things we’ve got to improve as a team. We’ve got to keep the ball better, that’s our trademark,” he said. “When you give the ball away it doesn’t mean you stop playing like that, it’s in our DNA.”
As for United, they were in for a stern task against Belgrade in their League L match as Antony Martial’s penalty in the 43rd minute propelled the Men in Red to the top slot and secured them a berth in the knockouts.
United applied pressure from the opening minutes with a couple of close-range headers from Brandon Williams and Jesse Lingard missing the mark. Williams’ header off a free kick of Juan Mata raced past the post, while Lingard’s shot hit the crossbar. Williams was later fouled by Nemanja Miletic and converted it into a goal to put United ahead in the closing stages of the first half.
Partisan came out all guns blazing in the second half but even with repeated threats, could not breach the United goal. Two penalty claims were not identified by the referee, in addition to Babras Natcho’s free kick missing its mark perilously close. Natcho kept attacking but Partizan failed to score by the time the final whistle was blown.
“Brandon has got a great attitude and the boy is going to be a top player,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the match. “For me Brandon was man of the match. He’s been fantastic the few games he’s played and the boy has no fear. He is as brave as a lion and today he got us the win.
“The crowd was unbelievable. They should be very proud of their team and the team should be very proud of the crowd. It was an excellent atmosphere.”