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Arsenal vs. Sporting: win the game, win the group

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Unai Emery could deploy a stronger-than-usual lineup today.

Sporting CP v Arsenal - UEFA Europa League - Group E
Danny Welbeck was the hero against Sporting last month.
Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images

Today’s Europa League matchup with Sporting Lisbon at the Emirates is significantly more important than you might think at first glance. With a win, Arsenal can wrap up first place in the group, avoid the better Champions League teams that drop to the EL Round of 32, and give themselves some breathing room ahead of critical fixtures against Tottenham and Manchester United at the start of December.

With only a match against Wolverhampton between the Gunners and the international break (and a relatively easy November schedule in general), Unai Emery might elect to use a few more first-team starters than he has in previous Europa League matches.

Arsenal are without the services of Mohamed Elneny and Dinos Mavropanos today, out with thigh and groin injuries respectively. Sporting’s injury list is far more extensive - Rodrigo Battaglia, Abdoulaye Diaby, Stefan Ristovski, Stefano Sturaro, Raphinha and Emiliano Viviano - are all on the shelf.

Notably back in the side for Sporting after missing the first match against Arsenal through injury is 6’5 striker Bas Dost. Dost has scored 68 goals in 81 appearances for Lisbon and will give the visitors a much-needed attacking boost. The striker plays a minimal role in Sporting’s build-up, he’s strictly a finisher. But he does that really well. He scored a hat-trick in a match in which he had only 13 touches. At one point last season, he scored 45 consecutive first-touch goals (a combination of tap-ins, back-post headers, and penalties) before scoring a multi-touch goal. (update: fortunately for the Gunners, Dost is on the bench NOT starting this evening)

Keep an eye on Arsenal’s formation today. Against Sporting two weeks ago, Unai Emery started the side in a 4-3-3 as opposed to the 4-2-3-1 he usually deploys. I’m interested to see if that formation change was prompted by injuries (Granit Xhaka started at left back) or because Emery made a tactical shift specifically for Lisbon.

I will also be watching the play of Ainsley Maitland-Niles closely (I expect him to start)(update: I was wrong). The youngster returned from a long injury layoff against Blackpool last week and played in a more advanced role than most expected. So far this season, at least one of the wide, attacking players has been forced into an unnatural / uncomfortable position. If Maitland-Niles can fill that role effectively, it gives Unai Emery more tactical and lineup flexibility.

Arsenal - Cech, Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding, Jenkinson, Guendouzi, Ramsey, Mkhitaryan, Smith Rowe, Iwobi, Welbeck

Sporting - Renan, Bruno Gaspar, Mathieu, Coates, Acuna, Gudelj, Miguel Luis, Bruno Fernandes, Nani, Montero, Diaby

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 ($$$, US only).

Remember to check livesoccer.tv for all your international streaming needs. Please do not discuss links to illegal streams here.