Yes, Arsenal are still in the Europa League, but you would be forgiven if you have forgotten about this competition. The last time the Gunners played a match in the competition was November 3rd. Since then we’ve had a World Cup, a transfer window, and an increasingly tense/enjoyable Premier League title challenge. But it’s back. And thanks to Arsenal topping their group they avoided the last knockout round and will face off against Sporting CP in the Round of 16.
Sporting CP are one of the three ‘big’ clubs in Portugal. They’ve won the domestic league, Cup, and League cup multiple times, and are currently fourth in the Primeira Liga, 15 points behind Benfica. However, they’ve won six of their last seven league matches, only dropping points in a 1-0 loss to Porto. They dropped in the Europa League after finishing third in their Champions League group behind Eintracht Frankfurt and Tottenham. To reach this round they defeated Midtjylland 5-1 on aggregate which include a 4-0 road win.
So how seriously will Mikel Arteta take the opening leg of the tie on the road? And how much focus has shifted to the Premier League since Arsenal were last active in this competition?
Predicted XI (Updated 3/8)
- Gabriel Jesus
- Amario Cozier-Duberry
- Fabio Vieira
- Bukayo Saka
- Thomas Partey
- Matt Smith
- Reuell Walters
- William Saliba
- Jakub Kiwior
- Ben White
- Aaron Ramsdale
- Karl Hein
- Left Out: Eddie Nketiah (injury), Leandro Trossard (injury), Kieran Tierney (illness) & Mohamed Elneny (injury)
- While we don’t have an official update on Trossard, he won’t be traveling to Portugal this week. In fact, the reports indicate that the aim may be for him to return after the March international break in time for the Leeds United match on April 1st. A great time for Emile Smith Rowe and Reiss Nelson to return to fitness.
- Going into the season the Europa League would have been a close 1B priority to making the top four (1A). But now given Arsenal’s place, the gap over fifth, and where we are in the season, there has to have been a shift in prioritizing the Premier League title at the cost of some focus on the Europa League. However, given it's a tough opponent and Arsenal open on the road I could see a 50/50 split of starters and backups.
Original: Thursday marks the perfect time for an Eddie Nketiah rebound. He was out of the squad against Bournemouth and subbed on late in the previous two matches. His last goals were in the 3-2 winner over Manchester United . Now with another forward option sidelined due to injury, it’s Eddie time once again.
- Update: Sounds like Nketiah will not travel with the squad, so I’ve moved Martinelli up top and Jesus to the bench (!).
- While I would not be surprised to see Arteta roll out some of the marquee players, I would save them for the Premier League match at the weekend, and the home leg of the tie. Bukayo Saka, Thomas Partey, Aaron Ramsdale, and William Saliba. I would prefer to see them healthy and rested going up against Fulham than on Thursday.
- With Rob Holding potentially coming in, Gabriel is the probably partner, because I don’t think this competition has fallen so far off Arteta’s focus that he starts Jakub Kiwior. Not on the road, and not at Sporting CP.
- Update: Tierney appears to be out as well due to illness. So that will bring Zinchenko into the starting XI and I’ve added Reuell Walters to the bench for coverage at left-back.
How to watch
Thursday (3/9) at 12:45 pm ET / 9:45 am PT on Paramount+.
Arsenal - 1
Sporting CP - 1
I expect a difficult match for the Gunners traveling to Portugal. If Arteta can rotate the squad and come back to London for the second leg without trailing I imagine he will take that. With enough quality players able to rotate in for the start Arsenal should be able to create enough chances to perhaps head home with a lead.