An outstanding performance by Gabriel Jesus helped put Arsenal’s Champions League hopes back on track after a much-needed triumph in a sodden Andalusia on Tuesday evening – before limping off late on.
Prior to the 26-year-old being forced off with a hamstring issue, Jesus was the hero. The Brazil star provided a satisfyingly outlandish assist, following a display of quick feet when executing a Cruyff turn, before delivering the ball to Gabi Martinelli to run onto and score with aplomb moments before half time. Jesus turned goalscorer after the break, cutting inside to power a shot into the far corner for the Gunners second.
Speaking about the striker's injury after the match, a concerned Mikel Arteta said: “He [Jesus] straight away asked to be subbed, which is not good news, we’ll have to wait and see,” adding, “I’m worried about that.”
Despite Nemanja Gudelj heading home past a static David Raya – who once again underwhelmed as Arteta’s anointed first choice keeper – Arsenal held on amid a superb atmosphere at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium.
A tremendous pre-match tifo display included a huge banner that read: “Europe knows what we’re capable of,” even if a heartfelt rendition of El Arrebato’s ‘Centenary Anthem’ was marred somewhat by an entirely vacuous light show.
All of which was the colourful prelude to an ear-splitting atmosphere generated by the 39,595 sellout at this evocative city centre ground, a short walk from the evocative heart of this splendid place, the historic Barrio de Santa Cruz, and the world’s largest gothic cathedral dating back to the 12th century, the Santa Maria de la Sede.
For their part the relentlessly vociferous Gunners support, 3,000 massed high in a cramped corner of this grand but ageing stadium, paid a proud tribute to former Arsenal Invincible, the late Jose Antonio Reyes, who played with such distinction for both clubs.
Those who know their history will know this stadium hosted the 1982 World Cup semi-final between Germany and France. A classic clash made infamous by Harold Schumacher’s brutal evisceration of an onrushing Patrick Battiston.
Yet, it was goalkeepers of the present era that were making the news, when, despite his travails in an Arsenal goalkeepers’ jersey since he arrived on loan from Brentford Raya was selected as first choice.
Eyebrows were raised, once again, following the breathless 2-2 draw at Chelsea last Saturday, when the 28-year-old was once again plagued with poor distribution, and for the Blues second goal, poor positioning as well, yet still Arteta selected the Barcelona-born netminder as first choice between the sticks ahead of Aaron Ramsdale.
Sevilla came into the match on the back of two draws in Group B, meaning they were third in the table before kick-off – where they remain, with the Gunners in second spot, easing to first place after this victory. Perhaps the seven times winners of Europa League in all its iterations are already subconsciously plotting a return to their happy place.
Led by Uruguayan Diego Alonso, they were boosted ahead of their Champions League clash after earning a creditable 1-1 draw in the same stadium against La Liga leaders Real Madrid at the weekend. The venerable 37-year-old Sergio Ramos playing against the side he spent two decades with – even if it was folly for boss Alonso to opt to play a high backline against a team as lively as Arsenal, certainly when the average age of the home defence was 34.
The Andalusian sunshine earlier in the day had long since turned to harsh rain, but despite the marked change in the weather, there was still no discernible improvement in Raya’s distribution.
One particular spell midway through the first half saw the Bees’ keeper cede possession twice in a matter of moments, through longer balls, that were supposed to be his speciality.
And when Raya did show his real ability, in taking a high cross cleanly, Arteta, a relentless cheerleader from the technical area, clapped ostentatiously.
It was good to see such loyalty, not least because no-one wants to see a player struggle, even if the question still has not been answered if Raya is actually the goalkeeper Arteta was looking for.
As the rain poured incessantly down, and as the rhythmic pounding of the drums got louder, as did the relentless hypnotic chanting from the home support behind the left-hand side goal – while the right-hand side simply put up a plethora of umbrellas.
The English visitors of course, just stood there uncomplaining, singing in the rain, many with a new ruddy tan, after an afternoon basking in the glorious Andalusian sun, many based around the evocative old town and cathedral, merrily imbibing. And why not. The pre-match fayre was far more fun than watching Raya struggle.
Sevilla pressed, and it was instructive to note Declan Rice played deeper, alert to the danger, offering his position as an extra man, calming the backline. Not that someone of the quality of William Saliba needs to be told, but, still it was reassuring to see. Rice playing the role to perfection after Thomas Partey missed the match with a muscle complaint. The Ghanaian midfielder not deemed fit enough to make the flight to southern Spain on Monday evening.
While Youssef En-Neysri nearly put the home side ahead, but failed, when pulling his low drive wide of Raya’s far post, it was only a preamble to Arsenal scoring, four minutes into added time.
The goal came after an outrageous piece of skill from Jesus, who produced a marvellously satisfying Cruyff turn, prior to sending Martinelli through with acres of space.
The speedy Brazilian ate up the ground, anticipated Orjan Nyland’s charge towards him to close the angle, instinctively rounded the keeper and slotted home into an empty net. From start to finish it was a wonderful goal, so far out of keeping from such a prosaic encounter before that.
Despite the sodden conditions, Arsenal came out firing after the interval, with captain Martin Odegaard firing over when well-placed.
The pressure was to tell on 53 minutes, when Jesus cut inside onto his right to unleash a powerful curling shot past Nyland and into the net to double the lead for the Gunners – sending the soaked Gooners into the other corner into raptures.
“Big games are for big players, and he [Gabriel] needed to produce those moments to win in a stadium like this,” said Arteta, adding in further admiration, “he changed our world.”
Yet, this Arsenal side always seem to have a propensity to add jeopardy to matches that appear won.
We saw it crucially during Arsenal’s cruel spring, throwing away comfortable two goals leads at Anfield and West Ham last season, and at 2-0 goals up we saw it again in Seville.
The catalyst this time was a corner that Gudelj nodded home emphatically, with Raya unable to influence proceedings, a mere five minutes later, with the match practically won.
No wonder the home side and fans were roused into further fire and fury, after they were seemingly subdued following Jesus’s strike.
However, despite the noise, Arsenal stood firm, to pick up a vital victory that favourably alters the nature of this group, despite another less than convincing final vignette from Raya - who somehow contrived to divert a deep cross over his own bar by punching the ball backwards, deep into the six minutes of injury time.
No matter, the soaked Arsenal supporters revelled in the victory, singing in the rain, singing about heading to Wembley for the final next May. Huge amounts of work – not to mention stark choices - are required before those hopes can be realised.
Not least on who will become Arsenal’s long-term first choice goalkeeper.