Avatar photo Date:23rd March 2023 at 12:04pm
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Arsenal’s march towards the double continues, hosting Sporting in a battle for a quarter-final place in the Europa League. Following a 2-2 draw in Lisbon, Arteta must surely be confident of a positive result in the return leg.

Yet the draw did expose a few worrying vulnerabilities. Will Arsenal display the same form that catapulted the team to the top of the Premier League, or is the Europa League a little too much to ask for a team lacking the depth of say, Manchester City?

Fortunate Own Goal Saves Blushes

Bluntly speaking, Arteta can count himself lucky for walking away with a serviceable 2-2 result. The Gunners equalized through a deeply unfortunate Hidemasa Morita own goal, and a draw was more than the Londoners deserved on the night.

Arsenal, in search of their first league title since 2004’s famous Invincibles, made six changes compared to the side that bested Bournemouth in dramatic last-minute fashion. Nevertheless, Arteta still sent out a side stocked with talent; Martinelli, Saka, Zinchenko, Saliba, and Xhaka all featured from the start.

Nevertheless, the team looked lethargic and lacking inspiration, perhaps reflecting a change too many. The team was surprisingly open at the back, with Saliba unable to patch together the uneasy ensemble’s defensive outing.

Arteta will need an improved performance from his team, with Sporting buoyed by their encouraging display against the Premier League leaders. The Lisbon side currently sits fourth in the league, but they still have a squad of decent players and are on a good run of form of late.

Despite this less-than-inspiring match and worrying signals, most punters keen on football betting will still favour the Gunners for the second leg. But is that view too simplistic? The odds on every single bookie say Arsenal (Sporting hover around 5/1 outsiders to qualify), but the first leg showed the North Londoners can be beaten. Let’s take a further look.

Running Out of Steam or Lack of Depth?

The Gunners are already known for not having a deep squad, despite the addition of Trossard and Jorginho, and the showing against Sporting showed that Arsenal is looking fatigued. Arteta made six changes, but those that kept their place in the match against Bournemouth did not reach their usual levels.

It could simply be that Arteta’s changes were simply far too many to absorb. Jakub Kiwior is known to be a talent, but he didn’t exactly cover himself in glory. Matt Turner looked a little shaky also, and a lack of confidence from the defensive unit perhaps affected the less-than-cohesive display.

There’s good news on the staffing front, too. Expect to see Gabriel Jesus play some significant minutes to get his legs back, if not start in London. His cameo against Fulham confirmed his status as one of Arsenal’s top players (perhaps second only to Saka), and Arteta will need him for the run-in.

Zinchenko Loses Cool

Oleksandr Zinchenko has quickly become a favourite at the Emirates, with the Ukrainian displaying a fiery passion that Arsenal fans tend to appreciate. Yet it’s that exact passion that can sometimes manifest as going just a tad too far.

In an altercation with Sebastian Coates and cohorts, the defender was lucky to walk away with just a yellow. The team will need to muster a collective sense of calm in the second leg, with the Sporting players not being strangers to the darker side of the game.

Arsenal will need to stay professional and ahead of the unavoidable mind games. Granit Xhaka, take note. Arsenal will want this season’s version of the Swiss maestro, not the hot-headed alternative who has a penchant for getting sent off.

Eyes on the Premier League

No matter how you slice it, however, this Arsenal squad still has far too much class to not reach the last eight. Anything but a victory would be a calamity in any other season, yet most fans will likely quickly forgive and forget.

That’s because the Emirates has only one thing on its mind for 2023: the Premier League. The obsession is real for the Arsenal faithful, and even the most negative fans are starting to believe that this time, it’s our time.

This Arsenal vintage has everything you need for a Europa League winner, but it’s obvious that winning that trophy is an afterthought this season. Imagine saying that just a short year ago, Arsenal fans.

Final Prediction

The Portuguese side put up a fine display in Lisbon, but the difference in sheer quality should be a bridge too far for Sporting. Arsenal can even afford a sizable drop in their usual quality, with even a competent showing surely enough to dispatch Amorim’s side.

Yet Arsenal cannot send out a second-string eleven and expect to brush Sporting aside. The team’s defensive frailties were clear for everyone to see, and Arteta should think carefully about tinkering with the usual defensive framework.

If the team wants to win this one, they’ll still have to put up a focused performance. But the question is: do we, both team and fans, want it enough in this potentially historic Gunners season?

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