In the UEFA Europa League (UEL) Round of 16 for the fourth time, Sporting Lisbon will welcome Premier League (PL) leaders Arsenal in fine form, with their recent 1-0 win at Portimonense stretching their unbeaten competitive run to five matches (W4, D1), albeit they remain 15 points behind the title pace in Portugal.
However, they’ve already overcome a North London PL side in the shape of Tottenham this season (2-0) on matchday two of the Champions League, and they’ve only tasted defeat in one of their three home UEL games against English opposition (W2).
Yet that one defeat did come against their opponents here back in 2018 (1-0). The Gunners look like a much tougher opponent this time round too, with Sporting manager Rúben Amorim even labelling them “out of this world” in the build-up.
He did, however, claim his side still have a chance, but they’ll need to improve on five defeats from their last nine European home games (W3, D1) in order to give themselves the best chance of progression.
Arsenal left it until stoppage time on Saturday to seal a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to beat Bournemouth 3-2 to keep their five-point lead at the top of the PL.
That victory extended their winning run to four, with nine of their 12 goals during that period coming in the second half.
That highlights that the London club have been struggling to get going from the outset in recent matches, something manager Mikel Arteta hinted could be down to physical issues as he revealed he intends to “pick the players (for this game) that are in the best possible condition”.
We may, therefore, see a shake up in the starting XI. Yet even if we do, many will fancy the away side to bag a positive result, especially given their record of just two defeats across their last 16 UEL away matches (W11, D3).
Although, the aforementioned win at this venue was their only success from their last seven European visits to Portugal (D3, L3), suggesting this game might not be as easy as many predict for the PL’s first-placed side.
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