Standard Liege 2-2 Arsenal
Bukayo Saka provided the inspiration as Arsenal fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at Standard Liege and qualify for the Europa League knockout stage.
For some time, the Gunners looked to have been slipping down to second place in Group F but a point, coupled with Eintracht Frankfurt’s home defeat to Vitoria, meant they avoided the likes of Ajax and Inter Milan in the last-32 draw on Monday.
Samuel Bastien and Selim Amallah both scored from deflected second-half efforts for the Belgian side, only for Saka to cross for Alexandre Lacazette to head in before netting the equaliser himself.
It remains to be seen if interim head coach Freddie Ljungberg will be in charge when the competition returns in the new year, but his decision to make nine changes this time out looked like it could have backfired at stages.
Lacazette looked leggy as he returned to captain the visitors, who ended a nine-match winless run at West Ham on Monday before returning to the habit here.
The defence is something that clearly needs addressing as Arsenal once again failed to keep a clean sheet, extending that particular streak to 13 matches and equalling the worst run of Arsene Wenger’s reign.
Arsenal were guilty of misplaced passes on numerous occasions in the opening exchanges, with Konstantinos Mavropanos – making his first appearance since May – lucky to not gift Standard the lead as he gave the ball straight to Mehdi Carcela on the edge of his own box, only for the winger to shoot at Emiliano Martinez.
At least Ljungberg’s attacking talent seemed up for the task at hand, Emile Smith Rowe heavily involved early on and testing Arnaud Bodart in the Liege goal with a low strike.
Most of the play in the remainder of the first half was as poor as the surface underneath the feet of the players. Saka had a half-chance turned behind for a corner from an acute angle by Bodart.
The 18-year-old, operating at left wing-back, then arrowed a shot just over as Ljungberg’s side pushed for an opener, with Reiss Nelson’s close-range header on the stroke of half-time the closest they came to doing so.
It was the hosts who hit the front, taking the lead less than two minutes after the restart as Bastien’s tame shot took a huge deflection off Sokratis Papastathopoulos to wrong-foot Martinez and creep over the line.
The second goal followed in the 68th minute, Amallah this time seeing his shot hit David Luiz to beat Martinez and nestle in the corner of his goal.
Ljungberg turned to Gabriel Martinelli in the hope of adding some flair to a toothless attacking display, with Luiz sending a free-kick over the crossbar in a rare chance on goal.
They reduced the arrears soon after as Lacazette finally got on the scoresheet as he did well to head home Saka’s fine cross.
Saka then got himself a goal, cutting inside and bending home past Bodart, who will feel he should have done better.
But it was some distance away in Germany where two late Vitoria goals determined that Arsenal held on to advance as group winners.