Sporting Lisbon v Arsenal Cheat Sheet
Sporting Lisbon v Arsenal
On March 4, 2020, on the precipice of a global pandemic, Sporting CP appointed Rúben Amorim as their new manager. Amorim had spent a decade playing for Sporting’s crosstown rivals Benfica and had spent just two months managing in the Portuguese top-flight when Sporting decided to snatch him away from Braga, paying a fee that would eventually rise to €14.4 million. Within 14 months, Amorim had led Sporting to their first league title in 19 years, before following that up with another 85-point tally in 2021/22, a third consecutive triumph in the Taça da Liga, a trip to the Champions League knockout round, and a second-placed finish.
On Thursday, the 38-year-old Portuguese manager will be taking on 40-year-old Spanish manager Mikel Arteta and his Arsenal team in the Europa League UEFA Round of 16. Having taken charge midway through the 2019/20 season, Arteta has experienced the lowest of lows at the Emirates, such as missing out on Europe for the first time in 26 years, but he’s gradually led them back to the promised land.
Arsenal are all but guaranteed to return to the UEFA Champions League for the first time since 2017, and they are on course to win their first Premier League title in 19 years. The Gunners currently sit five points clear of defending champions Manchester City and are riding a stellar run of form – after a shaky start to February, they have beaten Aston Villa 4-2, Leicester City 1-0 and Everton 4-0. Arsenal conceded after 10 seconds on Saturday and went down to 2-0 at the hour-mark, but they nevertheless secured a 3-2 victory against Bournemouth via a 97th-minute winner from Reiss Nelson.
Four of Arsenal’s last five matches have featured more than 2.5 goals, and I’m expecting that pattern to continue in Lisbon. Whilst Arteta may go for a slightly rotated team ahead of Sunday’s match-up against Fulham, the Gunners have more than enough firepower to cause Sporting some problems with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe and co.
Nevertheless, a rotated line-up can often introduce a lack of rhythm, chemistry and organization with many players operating alongside each other for the first time, and it could spell trouble for an Arsenal team that has kept just two clean sheets in their past nine fixtures – four of those have seen them concede two or more goals. Sporting have conceded 23 goals in 23 games, more goals than in the entirety of the 2020/21 season and as many as they conceded last season, and whilst they enter the match on the back of four straight wins, I don’t think they will be able to keep Arsenal’s dangerous frontline from scoring either.
With that being said, Amorim’s side boast plenty of difference-makers in attack such as Pedro Gonçalves, Francisco Trincão and Marcus Edwards, and they have more than enough quality to cause a rotated Arsenal defense some problems as well. I’m expecting plenty of goals in what should be an entertaining fixture in Lisbon.
Whilst Arsenal will enter Thursday’s match as the Premier League leaders, Sporting have suffered their worst campaign under Amorim thus far. They were knocked out of the Taça de Portugal by lower-tier Varzim, they lost to Porto in the Taça da Liga Final, and they currently sit fourth in the Primeira Liga table, five points behind Braga, seven behind Porto and 15 behind Benfica.
After thrashing Eintracht Frankfurt 3-0, Sporting beat Tottenham 2-0 on September 13 – their only home victory in Europe this season – before losing three, drawing once, and being relegated from Champions League football to Europa League football. The Gunners simply have too much individual quality to let this one slip as they take on a Sporting side that looks a far cry from their title-winning side of 2020/21, and that will be missing arguably their best midfielder in Manuel Ugarte due to suspension. I’m expecting Arsenal to get the job done and leave Lisbon with a victory.
After joining from Famalicão in 2020, Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves played a vital role in Sporting’s league title with 23 goals, becoming the first Portuguese player in 25 years to finish as the league’s top scorer. Slowly but surely, Pote is getting back to his best – after grabbing a brace in a 3-2 win against Chaves (racking up two shots on target from central midfield), he scored another brace from three shots on target to lead Sporting to a 4-0 victory against FC Midtyjlland, booking their ticket to the next round of the Europa League.
He was kept under wraps in the following match, a 2-0 win against Estoril, before starting in the following match against Portimonense. Pote registered four shots on target and four shots off target, hitting the woodwork once and failing to convert a penalty before the break, blasting over the bar, but he would nevertheless compensate for his error by teeing up Paulinho’s winning goal with a sensational pass in a 1-0 victory. Pote is undoubtedly Sporting’s biggest threat in attack, and I’m expecting him to have at least one shot on target as he looks to continue his impressive run of form.
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