Arsenal will resume their pursuit of an elusive continental title on Thursday night when they face Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League round of 16 matches.
Sporting had a rough time in the Champions League group stage. They faced off against Tottenham Hotspur & Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite their best efforts, they could not secure a top-two spot. Instead, they settled for a third-placed finish, landing them in Europe’s second-tier tournament.
While dreams of winning both the domestic and continental titles may seem unrealistic, Sporting’s recent form suggests they still have plenty to play for.
They currently occupy fourth place in the Primeira Liga standings, trailing leaders Benfica by a significant 15-point margin. However, they have won their last three league matches, indicating they can pull together a strong run of form.
In their most recent league match against Portimonense, Sporting secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory thanks to a late goal from Paulinho. This win marked their fourth consecutive triumph across all competitions and their third clean sheet in a row. However, their home form has been mixed, with only two of their last four matches at home ending in victory.
Sporting Lisbon Form (All Competitions): D W W W W
Arsenal finished at the top of Group A in the Europa League with a record of 15 points from 18 on offer.
Their young team has managed to fend off Manchester City in the English Premier League, holding a five-point lead at the top of the table with 12 games left.
Although Premier League glory is not a certainty, Arsenal’s place in the top four is all but secured, barring a catastrophic collapse.
This makes success in the Europa League less critical than in previous years. However, Arsenal has never been eliminated in the last 16 of Europe’s second-tier tournament and is eager to claim a slice of continental glory.
Arsenal Form (All Competitions): L W W W W
The booking of midfielder Manuel Ugarte somewhat marred Sporting’s impressive second-leg thrashing of Midtjylland in the playoff round. Unfortunately for Sporting, this was his third booking of the European campaign, which means he will miss Thursday’s game through suspension.
With Daniel Braganca still recovering from a ruptured cruciate ligament, 19-year-old Mateo Tanlongo will likely come in for a start alongside Hidemasa Morita. While this is far from ideal, Amorim has no other injury or suspension concerns.
Arsenal’s upcoming match may see them needing their three recognized central attacking options, creating a challenge for Mikel Arteta. In the recent win over Bournemouth, Leandro Trossard was forced off in the first half with a groin problem, which puts his availability for the match in doubt.
Adding to Arteta’s woes, Gabriel Jesus and Mohamed Elneny is also expected to sit out the match.
Unfortunately, Eddie Nketiah’s ankle problem seems unlikely to heal in time for the first leg. This means that Arteta will have to look to his other attacking options to step up and fill the void left by these absences.
Sporting Lisbon’s predicted starting lineup:
Adan; Inacio, Coates, St. Juste; Esgaio, Tanlongo, Morita, Reis; Edwards, Paulinho, Goncalves
Arsenal’s predicted starting lineup:
Turner; White, Saliba, Gabriel, Tierney; Xhaka, Jorginho; Saka, Odegaard, Smith Rowe; Martinelli
Head to Head
The upcoming match between Arsenal and Sporting CP is not the first time these two teams have faced each other on the pitch.
They have already locked horns four times before, with a couple of those meetings taking place during the group stage of the 2018-19 edition of the Europa League. The other two meetings came in the Fairs Cup.
In their four previous meetings, Arsenal has recorded two wins, while the remaining two games ended in goalless draws.
Time, Date & Venue
Date: Thursday, March 09
Time: 05:45 GMT
Venue: Estadio Jose Alvalade, Lisbon
Considering Arsenal’s attacking injury woes, Sporting could capitalize on their midfield issues and expose the Gunners’ weakened defense.
It remains to be seen how Mikel Arteta will navigate these challenges and whether Arsenal’s defense can hold firm against Sporting’s attacking threat.