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Arsenal vs. Sporting preview: lock it up

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The Gunners can secure a place in the knockout stages with a win.

Sporting CP v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League - Group E
Danny Welbeck’s goal gave Arsenal a crucial away victory in Lisbon.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

The math is simple - beat Sporting on Thursday at the Emirates, win the Europa League group. If Vorskla loses, the Gunners would also clinch a place in the knockout stages with a draw (but wouldn’t clinch the group). Winning the group ensures that Arsenal won’t play one of the top four third place finishers from the Champions League group stage in the Round of 32 - there will be at least two really good teams in that bunch.

More importantly, clinching the group against Sporting means that the Matchday 5 tie with Vorskla - the one that comes 3 days before Tottenham and 6 days before Manchester United - becomes a meaningless match. It would be really nice if Unai Emery could rest all the Premier League first team starters before those two difficult games.

When the sides met two weeks ago in Lisbon, Danny Welbeck provided the late, difference-making goal. The match got a bit chippy towards the final whistle, and Sporting picked up a couple late yellow cards. It will be interesting to see if any of that bad blood carries over. I suspect it won’t - it’s too important for Lisbon to get a result to be messing around trying to settle scores.

Against Liverpool at the weekend, Arsenal finally broke their season-long trend of playing poor first halves. I’ll be watching closely to see if the Gunners can repeat that or if they revert to starting slowly. With a quarter of the season in the books, I’m ready to start drawing some conclusions about what has changed, where the team has progressed, and what work remains to be done. In my opinion, first half play is one of Arsenal’s biggest areas for improvement, and something for which I will be on the lookout.

The Gunners will be without Mohamed Elneny and Dinos Mavropanos, who are out with thigh and groin injuries respectively. Rodrigo Battaglia, Abdoulaye Diaby, Stefan Ristovski, Stefano Sturaro, Raphinha and Emiliano Viviano are all injured for Sporting.

WHAT: Arsenal vs. Sporting Lisbon

WHERE: The Emirates

WHEN: Thursday, November 8th 12 PM PT | 3 PM ET | 8 PM BT

US TV: UniMas (Spanish). Streaming on the B / R Live app (subscription, US only).

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