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MATCH PREVIEW: Arsenal v Sporting

A look ahead to Arsenal’s game against Sporting in the Europa League tomorrow night.

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Momentum is an infectious drug. Having won 5 consecutive games in the Premier League, Arsenal are now close to being in full swing, and will look for that positivity to continue here in the Europa League. 

Against Fulham, Saka wasn’t burdened with rescuing the side, Trossard had his best game for the club and Arsenal’s talisman Gabriel Jesus returned from injury – a comprehensively strong weekend for the Gunners.

Not only this, Martinelli has rediscovered his early season form, Reiss Nelson’s confidence has shot up, Smith Rowe is back raring to play, Fabio Vieira is maturing quietly under the radar, Nketiah will be back in full training by next week, Arsenal are nearly at full squad fitness – and it’s mid March. Arteta will be relishing the opportunity to rotate and give minutes to those slowly returning to the squad. 

It’s no secret Arsenal would rather be returning to the Emirates this Thursday with a stronger grip on this Europa League tie. Sporting showed a few glimpses of quality, and knew how to expose Arsenal’s defensive fragilities. In honesty, the Portuguese club should’ve had 3 goals on the night and it was only 70 minutes into the game, with the introduction of Partey and Gabriel that Arsenal finally looked in control of the fixture. 

READ MORE: An injury update ahead of Arsenal’s game against Sporting in the Europa League tomorrow night.

The suspension of Sporting captain Sebastian Coates and midfielder Hidemasa Morita will be a big blow to Sporting’s chances of progressing. Wide forward and ex-Spurs player Marcus Edwards created problems for Kiwior and Saliba in Lisbon and I expect him to be a threat on his return to North London. 

Unlike many teams to visit the Emirates this season, I don’t expect Sporting to simply sit off and look to counter. They have a methodology and vision of how they want to attack, going man-for-man with teams regardless of quality, which makes for potentially very entertaining football. Should Arsenal concede early, the tie could easily become heated with a high tempo, especially given Sporting’s willingness to dive and time waste from minute one. 

I’d like to see some rotation in the forward line during the game – regardless of the scoreline. Smith Rowe’s energy and directness on the counter attack could help pin back Sporting and really test St. Juste’s technical ability. Whilst rapid, the Dutch centre half didn’t seem totally assured in his defensive solidity. Equally, Jesus would benefit from another 15/20 minute spell before Sunday and then the two week break. Saka’s fatigue is something that has troubled me for a while, and with little right sided competition in the England set up, I expect him to play a considerable amount of minutes whilst away, so resting him here could be crucial.

Both clubs recorded 3-0 wins on Sunday, but Arsenal are favourites to progress on Thursday. The Emirates has been electric all season and will undoubtedly act as the 12th man. Whilst many fans acknowledge this avenue of European qualification is more arduous and risky than their current automatic qualification through the League, it is still a key fixture in the calendar, and one Mikel Arteta is keen to win.

I say keen, because that’s how it feels. It is not of categorical importance like in previous years. They are not desperate. Arteta, the club, the players and the fans are desperate to beat Palace on Sunday. To beat Leeds after that and to beat Liverpool after that. I do not believe they are desperate to win the Europa League. It’s understandable for a club like Manchester United, given their current situation involving a rebuilding of a fractured squad (and club) paired with a manager’s debut season, that this competition holds higher value to them. Each week, Arsenal come closer to their ultimate goal, and there will be a point in the season where Arteta will surely turn his eyes away from Europe. But not just yet.

Our score prediction: Arsenal 3 – 1 Sporting


Arsenal Predicted Starting XI


White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko

Odegaard – Jorghino – Vieira 

Saka – Trossard – Martinelli

Sporting Predicted Starting XI


Diomande – St. Juste – Inacio

Esgaoi – Ugarte – Goncalves – Santos 

Edwards – Trincao


NEXT ARTICLE: Arsenal advance their interest in Leverkusen star.

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