Preview: Arsenal vs. Sporting Lisbon
Following a chaotic and unpredictable 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie, Arsenal and Sporting Lisbon reconvene at the Emirates Stadium for Thursday’s decisive encounter.
Both outfits enter the second leg on the back of 3-0 domestic wins, with the hosts seeing off Fulham while Ruben Amorim’s men put Boavista to the sword.
Sloppy goals and set-piece defending that left a lot to be desired were the themes of last week’s first leg at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, where William Saliba nodded Arsenal in front before Goncalo Inacio responded in kind for Sporting with a header of his own from a corner.
Paulinho’s tap-in 10 minutes into the second half would turn the tide in the hosts’ favour, but when Arsenal needed a huge stroke of luck, Hidemasa Morita obliged, as Granit Xhaka’s cross cannoned off the Japanese midfielder into the back of the net to cap off an all-action stalemate.
Undoubtedly a better result for Arsenal than Sporting heading into their Emirates encounter, Europa League success should certainly not define the Gunners’ season as they continue to make waves in the Premier League, still five points clear at the summit thanks to the weekend’s 3-0 beating of Fulham.
Only a catastrophic collapse would see Mikel Arteta’s side not make their long-awaited Champions League return now, and an unprecedented Premier League and Europa League double is still on the cards for those in red and white, who are aiming to end a three-game drought without a win in Europa League knockout home games.
However, Sunday’s sheer dominance at Craven Cottage saw Arsenal score at least two goals for the fourth game running, and they have posted four clean sheets in their last four Europa League home matches, keeping Villarreal, PSV Eindhoven, Bodo/Glimt and Zurich at bay in the process.
Ruing a poor miss from Paulinho which would have put his side out of sight in the second half, Sporting boss Amorim expressed his belief that his side’s fortunes would soon be on the up following Thursday’s entertaining stalemate, and he certainly got the response he was after domestically.
Nuno Santos’s strike and a Salvador Agra own goal put Sporting two goals to the good in Sunday’s Primeira Liga battle with Boavista before Paulinho came off the bench to net a third in injury time, but Amorim’s fourth-placed men only succeeded in remaining 15 points behind Benfica in the rankings.
Seeking a first Europa League quarter-final berth since the 2017-18 campaign, when they were eliminated by eventual winners Atletico Madrid, Sporting take a seven-game unbeaten run in all tournaments to North London, and it has been 10 games since the Lions last failed to find the back of the net.
Leaving familiar territory behind does not phase Amorim’s men either, as they can boast five successive away wins domestically and continentally ahead of the second leg, but not since 2005 have Sporting managed to come away from English soil with a victory.
Indeed, the visitors have failed to win in nine games in England since defeating Middlesbrough in the 2004-05 UEFA Cup – where they ended up reaching the final before losing to CSKA Moscow – but eliminating Midtjylland in the playoff round saw Sporting progress from a European tie when failing to win the first leg at home for the first time in 21 attempts.
Arsenal Europa League form:
Arsenal form (all competitions):
Sporting Lisbon Europa League form:
Sporting Lisbon form (all competitions):
We say: Arsenal 2-1 Sporting Lisbon (Arsenal win 4-3 on aggregate)
As Arteta alluded to after the first leg, the Spaniard’s side are conceding too many easy goals at present, and a rejigged defence may not experience much luck against a clinical Sporting frontline.
However, with two crucial pillars in Morita and Coates missing out, Sporting’s attacking endeavours may prove futile against an Arsenal side who are the masters at overcoming adversity, and we are backing the Gunners to book their place in the last eight.