Arsenal v Sporting Lisbon Cheat Sheet
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Rúben Amorim’s Sporting will take on Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday, with the two sides grinding out a 2-2 draw in Lisbon in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League Round of 16 fixture. Both teams enter the match in impressive form, the visitors closing out February with a 3-2 win against Chaves and a 4-0 win against FC Midtyjlland and a 2-0 win against Estoril Praia, before opening March with a 1-0 win at Portimonense and a 3-0 win against Boavista. Arsenal bounced back from a shaky start to the month by securing a come-from-behind 4-2 victory at Aston Villa and a 1-0 win at Leicester City, before opening March with a 4-0 win against Everton, a come-from-behind 3-2 win against Bournemouth, and a 3-0 victory against Fulham.
I’m expecting plenty of goals in North London as the Premier League leaders take on the Primeira Liga’s fourth-placed side. The Gunners sit five points above Manchester City and 16 above their Manchester United, and they are on pace to win their first Premier League title in 19 years. After winning their first Primeira Liga title in 19 years and following it up with a second-place finish and another 85-point haul, Sporting have regressed to fourth in the table due to key departures such as João Palhinha and Matheus Nunes as well as a leaky defense. The Lions have conceded 23 goals in 24 games, as many as they had let in during the entirety of the 2021/22 season and three more than the 2020/21 campaign. This, combined with a dangerous attacking arsenal, has meant that the bulk of their biggest matches have featured over 2.5 goals, be that a a 2-1 loss to Porto on February 12, a 5-0 win against Braga on February 1, a 2-2 draw to Benfica on January 15 or a 2-1 loss to Eintracht Frankfurt on November 1. Amorim’s side will be without captain Sebastián Coates or midfield metronome Hidemasa Morita due to suspension, but they will nevertheless be able to count on Uruguayan midfielder Manuel Ugarte as he returns from suspension.
Sporting came within inches of making it 3-1 only to end the game with a 2-2 draw, but they will nevertheless be encouraged by their first leg appearance and will be looking to replicate their aggressive pressing off the ball and rapid counters. Six of Arsenal’s last seven matches have featured over 2.5 goals, and with 62 goals scored, they have the second-best attack in the Premier League behind Manchester City. Between Bukayo Saka, Leandro Trossard, Gabriel Martinelli and more, they have the attacking firepower to put Sporting under pressure, but they too could be vulnerable to a Sporting attack that is growing in chemistry and that, for the first time all season, has picked up four league wins on the bounce. I’m expecting a high-scoring affair in North London in a match between two sides with plenty of quality up front – one of whom has Champions League qualification all but guaranteed, and one of whom will be looking to defy the odds and come away with a historic victory in the English capital.
Sporting have been held scoreless on just two occasions since the World Cup break – a 2-0 defeat to Porto on January 28 in the Taça da Liga Final and a 1-0 loss to Marítimo on January 8 in the league. Arsenal have been held scoreless on three occasions – a 0-0 draw to Newcastle on January 3, a 1-0 loss to Manchester City on January 27 in the FA Cup, and a 1-0 loss to Everton on February 4. Several of their matches in 2023 have featured goals for both sides, be that their comeback wins against Bournemouth and Villa, their 3-1 loss to City, their 1-1 draw to Brentford or their 3-2 win against Manchester United. Both teams have ample firepower and will be looking to utilize their weapons up front as they attempt to book their ticket to the Europa League quarter finals – I’m expecting a fairly open match that should see both teams find the back of the net.
On February 12, Youssef Chermiti grabbed a late consolation goal against Porto, his second goal in six appearances since making his professional debut the prior month. In doing so, the 18-year-old matched the league goal tally of Paulinho for the season. Two years after joining from Braga for a club-record €16 million, the 30-year-old Portugal international was at risk of losing his place in the starting line-up to a teenager.
On March 4, Paulinho replaced Manuel Ugarte in the 75th minute with Sporting in need of a goal and came to the rescue, latching onto a searching pass from Francisco Trincão and toe-poking home a delightful volley to secure a 1-0 win against Portimonense. The following match, he pounced upon a loose ball after Matt Turner’s save found its way to the feet of the Portuguese striker, with Paulinho making no mistake and firing home with his first touch. At the weekend, he came on for Chermiti and scored the final goal in their 3-0 victory against Boavista.
Paulinho is finding form at just the right time, and Amorim will be hoping that it’s enough to give Sporting a much-needed boost in their attacking efficiency. He’s picked up a shot on target in each of his last four appearances, and he typically rises to the occasions and finds the back of the net in big matches, be that Porto, Benfica, Ajax, Tottenham, Leicester, Besiktas or Arsenal. He was able to get in behind William Saliba and Jakub Kiwior with regularity in the first leg and maneuver his way into goal-scoring situations. I’m expecting him to grab a shot on target and make himself a nuisance for Arsenal’s backline.
Arsenal are on course to winning their first Premier League title in 19 years, and one player who has played a crucial role in their title charge is Gabriel Martinelli. Since losing 3-1 to Manchester City on February 15, Arsenal have won four in a row in the league and drawn to Sporting in the Europa League, and with the exception of their come-from-behind 3-2 win against Bournemouth, Martinelli has registered a shot on target in each of these matches. He came off the bench and scored the final goal in their 4-2 win against Aston Villa, before scoring in a 1-0 victory against Leicester City and opening March with a brace in a 4-0 win against Everton.
Whilst he was held under wraps against the Cherries, he made himself a nuisance against Sporting with one shot on target, two off target, two big chances missed and seven out of nine dribbles completed, before grabbing a goal from two shots on target at the weekend’s 3-0 win against Fulham. Having squandered several opportunities in the first leg, I’m expecting Martinelli to come out with an inspired performance in London as he looks to rectify for those misses and lead Arsenal to the next round of the Europa League.
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