Sports Mole brings you predicted lineups, team news and a full match preview of Arsenal’s trip to Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League.
Both sides have collected six points from six in Group E, meaning that Thursday’s victors will all but secure a place in the last 32 of the competition.
Sporting were made to work hard for victory at Vorskla Poltava in their most recent European outing, requiring goals in the final stages of the game from Fredy Montero and Jovane Cabral to dodge an upset.
That slender win came two weeks on from a more resounding 2-0 home victory over Azerbaijani champions Qarabag, with Cabral again registering on the night, ensuring that the Lions remain in a strong position as we approach the midway point of the group stage.
The Portuguese giants are regular participants in the Europa League, having contested in seven of the previous nine instalments, but not since 2011-12 have they managed to make it to the latter stages.
Defeat to Athletic Bilbao brought Sporting’s campaign to an end at the semi-finals on that occasion, while more recently they went down 2-1 on aggregate to Atletico Madrid in the quarter-finals last season – the Spanish side also knocking out Arsenal en route to lifting the trophy.
Jose Peseiro‘s men have a good European record on home soil, winning their last three matches at the Estadio Jose Alvalade without conceding, and going further back it is just two defeats in 28 matches here.
Sporting also have a perfect home record against English sides in the Europa League, beating Everton 3-0 in the round of 32 eight years ago and seeing off Manchester City in the last 16 six years ago.
Overall, the Lions’ 21 matches against English opposition has yielded nine wins, nine defeats and three draws, with seven of those victories coming on their own patch – including those only previous Europa clashes against Premier League teams.
Recent form in Europa League: WW
Recent form (all competitions): WLWWLW
Arsenal head into this third Group F outing as the Europa League’s joint-top scorers, alongside Bayer Leverkusen, boasting seven goals from their wins over Vorskla and Qarabag.
The Gunners had to dig deep for their eventual 4-2 victory over Ukrainian minnows Vorskla, which they followed up with a 3-0 win in Azerbaijan earlier this month through goals from Sokratis Papastathopoulos, Emile Smith Rowe and Matteo Guendouzi.
Unai Emery, a three-time winner of this competition with former club Sevilla, has stuck to his word by naming fairly strong starting lineups for both matches, seeing this as a realistic opportunity to add some silverware to the collection.
Going all the way would also mean a return to the Champions League for Arsenal after a couple of years away, although they also remain in a strong position to qualify for the competition via the more traditional route of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
That is thanks to seven wins on the spin in the top flight, culminating in Monday night’s well-earned 3-1 victory over Leicester City at the Emirates Stadium when playing some sublime football.
All in all it is now 10 successive victories for the North London outfit, including those triumphs over Vorskla and Qarabag, and an 11th on the spin would give Emery the chance to play a second-string side for the remaining two Group F outings.
Arsenal have not won on five previous trips to Portugal, however, losing three of those and scoring just twice. Interestingly, those two goals came via a couple of Campbells – Sol against Porto in 2009-10 and Kevin in 1991-92.
Recent form in Europa League: WW
Recent form (all competitions): WWWWWW
Petr Cech and Sokratis are both close to returning to first-team action following a spell on the sidelines, with the latter in line to come back into the side on Thursday.
Smith Rowe is another pushing for a recall after impressing in the win over Qarabag earlier this month, while Danny Welbeck has also started both previous Group F matches and should continue that run here.
In terms of the hosts, Peseiro will hope to have Jeremy Mathieu back involved after welcoming the French defender back to training at the start of the week.
Sporting Lisbon possible starting lineup:
Salin; Gaspar, Coates, Mathieu, Jefferson; Nani, Fernandes, Gudelj, Acuna, Mane; Montero
Arsenal possible starting lineup:
Leno; Bellerin, Holding, Sokratis, Lichsteiner; Elneny, Guendouzi; Smith Rowe, Ramsey, Welbeck; Aubameyang
Head To Head
Sporting and Arsenal have never previously met in a UEFA competition, although they did come face to face in a 1969-70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup second round tie.
The Gunners prevailed 3-0 on aggregate on that occasion, netting all three of their goals at Highbury on their way to lifting the trophy.
We say: Sporting Lisbon 1-1 Arsenal
Sporting are not in the best of form, having lost two of their last three league games to find themselves four points adrift of champions Benfica, whereas the Gunners have jumped over every hurdle placed in front of them over the past couple of months. The Lions are tough to beat at their home ground, however, and this could well be the match that sees Arsenal’s perfect streak come to an end.