Premier League leaders Arsenal travel to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon for the first encounter in their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday night.
Sporting are already familiar with north London after duelling Tottenham Hotspur during the Champions League group stage, where they failed to pip Spurs and Eintracht Frankfurt to a qualification spot.
Ruben Amorim’s side are light years off where they would like to be in their domestic competition, with a whopping 15 points separating them from runaway league leaders Benfica.
However, their European ambitions cannot be underestimated after swatting aside Danish giants Midtjylland 5-1 on aggregate to reach this stage.
Sporting have won each of their last four games across all competitions, recording clean sheets in the last three.
But posting only two wins from their last four home matches in all tournaments offers little faith in their ability to overcome a relentless Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta’s side will enter the tie off the back of four consecutive wins that have further boosted their credentials as title aspirants.
Since winning their Europa League group after taking 15 points from a possible 18, Arsenal have established a five-point lead over reigning champions Manchester City in the league with 12 games remaining.
However, their seemingly unassailable lead at the top of the table would have been reduced but for a last-minute stunner from an unlikely hero Reiss Nelson, who completed a 3-2 comeback win for the Gunners against a stubborn Bournemouth side.
Safe to say Arteta has got the whole squad pulling in the same direction, but their hunt for a first league title in two decades will be halted temporarily while they tackle a tricky opposition on the European stage.
Sporting are currently in a rich vein of form, and if their performance over the two-legged tie against Spurs is anything to go by, Amorim’s side will fancy their chances against the Gunners, especially as their only Europa League last-16 exit came against eventual winners Atletico Madrid in the 2009/10 campaign.
They have progressed from each of their previous six ties against English sides in the knockout stage of European football, with all six coming against different teams – a good omen for the Portuguese side that will be keen to add Arsenal to that list.
While Premier League glory is by no means a guarantee, it would take a catastrophic collapse for Arsenal to drop out of the top four, making success in the Europa League less of a priority than in previous years.
However, the prospect of adding a European crown to a potential league glory is one they cannot pass on, and they will be buoyed by the fact that they have never been eliminated in the last 16 stage of this competition.
Arsenal are also unbeaten in their last four meetings with Sporting. They have also kept a clean sheet in each of those four games.
The Gunners are unbeaten in their last six meetings with Portuguese opponents in the Europa League (W3, D3), including eliminating Benfica in the knockout stage in the 2020/21 campaign.
Arteta’s side have also kept a clean sheet in four of their last five games in the competition this season, although each of the last five goals they have conceded have come away from home.
Sporting Lisbon vs Arsenal Potential Line-ups
Sporting Lisbon (3-4-3): Antonio Adan; Goncalo Inacio, Sebastian Coates, Jeremiah St. Juste; Ricardo Esgaio, Mateo Tanlongo, Hidemasa Morita, Matheus Reis; Marcus Edwards, Paulinho, Pedro Goncalves.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Aaron Ramsdale; Ben White, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhaes, Kieran Tierney; Granit Xhaka, Jorginho, Martin Odegaard; Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Emile Smith Rowe.
How to Watch?
Sporting vs Arsenal, alongside all other Europa League matches this season, is available to watch online via Europa League live streams.
Sporting Lisbon vs Arsenal Prediction
There should be no shortage of confidence from either side as they both head into this tie on the back of four consecutive wins.
Sporting overcame Spurs on home turf, but there is no reason why Arsenal should suffer the same fate as their north London neighbours.
However, at least one winning streak has to end on Thursday night, but we expect Arsenal to emerge victorious behind enemy lines.
Sporting Lisbon 1-2 Arsenal
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