Arsenal 1(3)-(3)1 Sporting CP

For many, the UEFA Europa League has been placed firmly on the back burner. Most Arsenal fans would argue that the Premier League is the competition that demands the most immediate attention and given the falterings of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham and, to a lesser extent, Manchester City, Arsenal may never have a better chance at lifting the league trophy for some time.

However, the views of the fans mean nothing compared to those of Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard views the competition with the utmost importance and therefore named a very strong starting XI. More interestingly still, Gabriel Jesus was restored to the team for his first start since November.

First half:
Arsenal did not really start well. Their 2-2 draw in Lisbon the week before had been a hard-fought battle, and this looked to be no different. Sporting knew that they needed to hit Arsenal where it hurt and began pressing high.

Arsenal, for their part, are one of the best counter-pressing teams in Europe. They were able to hold off the Sporting press, but were also running into dead ends in their attack.

Gabriel Jesus looked to cause danger, but he was unable to really connect with any Arsenal chances.

Despite Sporting’s fast start, Arsenal slowly began to regain control. Eventually, they were able to put themselves a goal to the good. An expert ball through the midfield from Jorginho released Gabriel Martinelli, however, his somewhat tame effort was spilled out by goalkeeper Antonio Adán, before Granit Xhaka smashed home the rebound to give the hosts the lead.

Sporting looked shell-shocked after that and though they had several shots from distance, never really tested Aaron Ramsdale.

Second half:
Whatever control Arsenal had asserted in the first half evaporated in the second half.

Sporting looked like a team re-born. It is a testament to just how good Sporting were that they were able to make a team as good as Arsenal look decidedly average.

Arsenal, for their part, simply couldn’t keep hold of the ball. Every time Arsenal tried to move the ball forward, they either misplaced the pass or were instantly hunted down by a swarm of green and white-striped shirts.

More misery was yet to come, however. A loose ball in midfield from Granit Xhaka was gratefully gathered up by Pedro Gonçalves, who sprinted into the Arsenal half, looked up and saw Aaron Ramsdale off his line; from 43.6 yards, Gonçalves smashed home an emphatic equaliser and arguably one of the goals of the season, though he may find competition from teammate Nuno Santos for the Puskas Award.

Sporting had the chance to put the tie to bed, however. Former-Tottenham Hotspur forward Marcus Edwards found himself free as a bird from the Arsenal defence, but his shot smacked off the face of Ramsdale for a corner.

Dreadedly, the final whistle blew. Extra time beckoned.

Extra time:
Extra time was the last thing that Mikel Arteta and his coaching staff would have wanted. 120 minutes in the tank, with the possibility of penalties afterwards before a visit from Crystal Palace at the weekend was the definition of “not ideal”.

In extra-time, Arsenal looked the much better side. Leandro Trossard clattered a shot off the post and Gabriel Magalhães forced an excellent save from a corner, but by now, the damage was done and penalties beckoned.

(Ødegaard ✅ Saka ✅ Trossard ✅ Martinelli ❌)

(St. Juste ✅ Esagio ✅ Inácio ✅ Gomes ✅)

It’s a shame for Arsenal to go out of the Europa League, however, it’s as nothing to the collateral damage. 120 minutes in the tank was the last thing that Mikel Arteta would have wanted and that wasn’t all.

Arsenal were forced into two early changes. Takehiro Tomiyasu extended himself too far in a slide tackle and was forced off after just eight minutes, being replaced by Benjamin White, while, heartbreakingly, William Saliba was forced off with a back issue, meaning Rob Holding took his place.

While the extent of either injury is unknown, it is not ideal. Tomiyasu’s time at Arsenal has already been hampered by injuries, while Saliba is a core tenet of the Arsenal defence – they may have to make do without either for a bit.

Crashing out of Europe is not the end of the world for Arsenal. Now, Arsenal will have at least seven days between each league match, while Manchester City, who are still encumbered by both the FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, will have a decidedly more jam-packed fixture list.

Of course, Mikel Arteta will not view things that way. For him, to have bombed out of Europe is something he will consider as unforgivable. However, Arsenal must not sit around licking their wounds, they have a visit from a now manager-less Crystal Palace on Sunday and a win would see them, albeit temporarily, pull eight points clear at the top of the Premier League.

Arsenal team:
  1.) Aaron Ramsdale
18.) Takehiro Tomiyasu (White 8’)
12.) William Saliba (Holding 20’)
  6.) Gabriel Magalhães 
35.) Oleksandr Zinchenko
20.) Jorginho (Partey 64’)
34.) Granit Xhaka ©
21.) Fábio Vieira (Ødegaard 100’)
11.) Gabriel Martinelli
  9.) Gabriel Jesus (Trossard 45’)
24.) Reiss Nelson (Saka 64’)

Arsenal subs:
30.) Matt Turner
56.) James Hillson
16.) Rob Holding
15.) Jakub Kiwior
  4.) Benjamin White
  3.) Kieran Tierney
  5.) Thomas Partey
10.) Emile Smith Rowe
  8.) Martin Ødegaard
  7.) Bukayo Saka
19.) Leandro Trossard

Sporting CP team:
  1.) Antonio Adán ©
  3.) Jerry St. Juste
26.) Ousmane Diomandé
25.) Gonçalo Inácio
47.) Ricardo Esgaio
15.) Manuel Ugarte
28.) Pedro Gonçalves (Essugo 93’)
  2.) Matheus Reis (Santos 93’)
10.) Marcus Edwards (Tanlongo 118’)
20.) Paulinho (Chermiti 89’)
17.) Francisco Trincão (Gomes 104’)

Sporting CP subs:
13.) Luís Neto
12.) Franco Israel
16.) Rochinha
  6.) Sotiris Alexandropoulos
32.) Mateo Tanlongo
82.) Mateus Fernandes
11.) Nuno Santos
18.) Abdul Fatawu Issahaku
33.) Arthur Gomes
77.) Jovane Cabral
79.) Youssef Chermiti
84.) Dário Essugo

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