UEFA Europa League

Sporting v Arsenal: Gunners to tiptoe through the tie

Sporting coach Ruben Amorim
Ruben Amorim has made Sporting a dangerous team in Europe

Arsenal are still on course for a shock Premier League title win, but Kevin Hatchard thinks they might slip up against Sporting in the Europa League...

Sporting v Arsenal
Thursday 09 March, 17:45
Live on BT Sport

Sporting in need of UEL run

It's been a largely frustrating season for Sporting and their highly-rated coach Ruben Amorim. City rivals Benfica have flourished at home and abroad under Roger Schmidt, while the Lions' title charge never got out of second gear. Sporting are currently 15 points adrift of top spot, and they still have work to do to secure a Champions League berth, with third-placed Braga five points ahead.

To make matters worse, Sporting were dumped out of the Champions League by virtue of a Matchday Six home defeat against Eintracht Frankfurt. They also lost the Taca da Liga final to their old foes Porto. The capital club has to somehow rediscover the knack of performing well in the big games.

That said, Sporting have found their form recently. They swept aside Danish side Midtjylland 5-1 on aggregate in the playoff round, and in the league they have won six of their last seven, with another defeat to Porto the only exception. At the Jose Alvalade, Amorim's troops have won eight of their last ten games, and they won there against Tottenham earlier this season.

Daniel Braganca is out long-term with a cruciate ligament injury, but apart from that Amorim has no injury or suspension concerns here.

With Arsenal pushing for PL, is there room for anything else?

Amidst the maelstrom, Reiss Nelson kept his calm. The winger set himself, took a crucial extra second, and swung his so-called weaker foot. The ball flew past Neto into the Bournemouth net, and Arsenal had what could become one of the most famous comeback wins of their illustrious history.

Nelson's last-gasp heroics in Saturday's 3-2 win mean that Arsenal are five points clear at the top of the Premier League, but with Manchester City showing few signs of giving up the chase, the Gunners know that almost all of their focus has to be poured into the charge towards league glory.

Thus far, they have rotated sensibly for the Europa League, and they topped their group. However, the business end of the competition begins now, and it will be fascinating to see how seriously Mikel Arteta wants to try to add continental sparkle to domestic bliss.

The UEL field simply isn't as strong as it has been in years gone by, and although Italian giants Roma and Juventus stand alongside Manchester United as potential winners, it does feel like there's a genuine opportunity here.

Arteta's hand will be forced to some extent by existing injury problems. Leandro Trossard is carrying a knock, while there are doubts over Eddie Nketiah's involvement. Gabriel Jesus is still working his way back to fitness, and Mohamed Elneny is definitely out with a knee injury.

Hosts have Sporting chance of avoiding defeat

Arsenal are around 2.26/5 to win the first leg, and that's just too short for me. This feels like a tie where the Gunners would be happy to conserve energy and keep things close in the first leg, knowing that they have a second game to come at the Emirates. Tottenham lost at the Jose Alvalade this season, while Borussia Dortmund were well beaten there last term.

Sporting have found some decent form of late, so I'll back them in the Double Chance market at 1.814/5.

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Pot-shot Pote can pose a threat

Sporting midfielder Pedro Goncalves, also known as Pote, is a wonderful striker of the ball, and he is worth considering in the To Score market at 4.216/5. The Portuguese international has found the net 14 times this season, and has scored eight goals across his last 12 appearances. He bagged a brace in the last Europa League game, a 4-0 win at Midtjylland.

On the Arsenal side of things, keep an eye on the team news, but if Bukayo Saka starts, he's too big a price at 4.1. The England winger has scored 14 goals for club and country this term, and has found the net in three of his last five appearances.

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