After a four-month break, our Europa League journey continues with a trip to Lisbon to face Portuguese powerhouses Sporting CP on Thursday.
Mikel Arteta and our players will head to the Estadio Jose Alvalade for the first leg of our Round of 16 tie against the 19-time domestic champions, who have saved some of their best displays this term for European nights.
Ahead of Thursday’s game, here is everything you need to know about our opponents:
The third-most successful club in Portuguese football with 54 major honours to their name, Sporting were founded in 1906 by Jose Avalade - whom their stadium is named after. Six years after playing in the top-flight for the first time, they won their first championship in 1935.
A golden period between 1947 and 1954 saw the Lions claim seven out of eight league titles, and the following year they played in the first-ever European Cup match against Partizan Belgrade. 1964 would see them lift their only continental silverware to date, as they beat MTK Budapest to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup final.
The rest of the century saw regular success dry up, but they ended an 18-year wait for a league title in 2000, following that up with a double in 2002. However, an even longer drought would then begin, only ending in 2021 when they secured their 19th Primeira Liga title.
After Portugal was awarded the rights to host Euro 2004, construction started on the Estadio Jose Alvalade on the site of Sporting’s former ground of the same name in 2001, which was completed two years later.
Boasting a capacity of 50,095, the new home was opened in August 2003 when Sporting hosted Manchester United in a friendly that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to the attention of the Red Devils who swiftly snapped him up. As well as five matches at Euro 2004, it hosted the 2005 UEFA Cup final where the Lions were denied winning the trophy on home turf by CSKA Moscow.
During Covid-19, it hosted the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the Champions League in behind-closed-doors matches as a neutral venue, while Portugal’s national side regularly play their home matches there.
Ruben Amorim was placed in charge back in March 2020, who had previously enjoyed a successful playing career by representing Portugal at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups whilst part of a Benfica side that won three league titles during his time there.
After ending his career in 2017, he managed Casa Pia and Braga B in the third tier before stepping up to Braga’s top job in December 2019. He swiftly won the Portuguese League Cup, and after just 13 games was poached by Sporting.
In his first full season in charge, he was beaten just once in the league to end a 19-year wait for a title, and also claimed another League Cup. Last year, he guided the Lions into the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time since 2009, and sealed his third-straight League Cup success to continue Sporting’s rejuvenation.
The most familiar face to all Gooners will be Hector Bellerin, who will get the opportunity to return to Emirates Stadium next week having departed last summer for Barcelona. The right-back is currently on loan in Portugal from the Catalan giants, whom he made just seven appearances for before switching on deadline day.
Former Tottenham youngster Marcus Edwards netted against Spurs in the Champions League earlier this campaign, one of 10 goals to his name this season. The winger also scored against us back in 2019 in the Europa League for Vitoria, in a game we went on to win 3-2.
Captain and former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates has made over 250 appearances for the Lions and was a member of Uruguay’s 2022 World Cup squad along with defensive midfielder Manuel Ugarte, while Hidemasa Morita is a Japan teammate of Takehiro Tomiyasu.
Having played for Wolves in the Premier League last season, Francisco Trincao joined on loan from Barcelona last summer, while veteran shot-stopper Antonio Adan has represented both Real and Atletico Madrid. The goals are supplied by Pedro Goncalves, who is their top scorer this term with 16.
The season so far
Over the past 12 months, a transfer raid on Sporting has seen a number of star names depart. In the summer, Matheus Nunes headed to Wolves, Nuno Mendes to PSG and Joao Palhinha switched to Fulham for a combined £83 million, while Ruben Vinagre and Pedro Porro left in January on loan moves to Everton and Tottenham respectively - both having spent a matter of months in Lisbon.
That instability has affected Sporting. A poor start saw them win just once in their first four league games, leaving them playing catch-up since September. They currently sit in fourth place behind runaway leaders and city rivals Benfica, as well as Porto and Braga. They have won six of their last seven league games to build up some momentum, however their last defeat saw them denied a third-straight League Cup after losing 2-0 in the final to Porto at the end of January.
Their European form has been more promising. They won their opening two Champions League group games against Tottenham and Eintracht Frankfurt but would eventually finish behind the pair to enter the Europa League, but only due to a stoppage-time Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg goal that saw Spurs beat Marseille and demoted the French side to the bottom of the group. After that reprieve, Sporting knocked out FC Midtjylland 5-1 on aggregate after an impressive 4-0 second-leg win in Denmark.
Our previous meetings
This will be the third time we have been paired with Sporting in European competition. The first came back in the 1969/70 season when we drew 0-0 away from home before a John Radford goal and a George Graham brace saw us progress during our successful Fairs Cup run.
Then in 2018, we played two Europa League group games - Danny Welbeck's strike saw us come out on top at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, before a 0-0 draw at Emirates Stadium booked our place in the knockout stages.