Sunday’s resounding win at Fulham was an emphatic way for Mikel Arteta’s side to address the manager’s request to “show much more determination to defend our box” after last week’s 2-2 Europa League draw at Sporting CP.
Ruben Amorim’s side impressed at Estadio Jose Alvalade and they visit London with the last-16 tie delicately posed.
Mikel is under no illusions as to the task facing us at Emirates Stadium on Thursday evening.
“It’s a really tough opponent," our manager told us after the draw in Lisbon. "Giving them hope like we did, especially with a lot of giveaways in our own half, that were too risky and it’s not worth playing the balls that we played especially against a team that wants to press the way they did. We learnt some things that we can do better at Emirates Stadium.”
Sporting sparkling under Amorim
Like us, Sporting come into Thursday’s fixture off the back of a convincing 3-0 league victory. Amorim’s side comfortably saw off the challenge of Boavista at the weekend, to extend their unbeaten run to seven matches in all competitions.
“It was a perfect game because the team remained focused,” Amorim said at full-time. “The team's main priority and responsibility is to win our league games, but it's better to prepare for Arsenal after a victory and it was an excellent way to start preparing for that game.
“All the feelings that come with winning and not conceding a goal, like we did today, as well as playing well against a team like Arsenal, give us confidence.
“We cannot be under any illusions: Arsenal will have a different gear at home and we will have to be smart, but we will be prepared and very confident.”
Last time out
We shared four goals in the first leg of our Europa League round of 16 tie with Sporting CP.
Headers from corners from William Saliba and Goncalo Inacio saw the sides go in level at the break, and both continued to trade blows after the restart as Paulinho tapped in from close range before a Granit Xhaka shot spun in off Hidemasa Morita.
What the managers say
Amorim on the second leg: “We are going to London with the aim of going through. We know that Arsenal will have their crowd there, but if we were a goal or two ahead it would be completely different.
"We're going to play our game and try to make the opposition nervous because we have the ability to have the ball. We know we're going to suffer a lot and if we have to defend with everyone in front of the goal, then that's what we'll do. We strongly believe that we can go through."
Mikel on Sporting: “We're looking to win. That was the same when we were in Lisbon, but we're going to have to do better than we did in Lisbon to win against Sporting.
“We haven't had big European nights for three years due to COVID especially. Tomorrow is probably the first one that we've had for a while and hopefully, we'll build a really good atmosphere and enjoy it. Our supporters will be there against a really good team that is going to put a big challenge in front of us.”
Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe have both returned to the squad recently - but we will be without Eddie Nketiah on Thursday.
“He's still in the boot so still a few weeks away,” Mikel said in his pre-match press conference. “We need to be patient - it was a nasty injury. It's a challenge that Eddie's got ahead of him, but thank God he could have been worse so he's not in a bad place.”
Mohamed Elneny remains out with a long-term knee injury. Gabriel Martinelli and Kieran Tierney are both one booking away from a suspension.
The visitors, meanwhile, will be without defensive duo Sebastian Coates and Hidemasa Morita, who both picked up their third yellow cards in Europe this season during last week’s first leg. Ricardo Esgaio and Matheus Reis are one caution away from a one-match ban.
Facts and stats
We have won our last couple of two-legged UEFA ties against Portuguese clubs, the most recent a 4-3 aggregate success against Benfica in the 2020/21 UEFA Europa League round of 32, when, with both legs played at neutral venues, we followed a 1-1 draw in Rome with a 3-2 win in Piraeus.
Our record in London against Portuguese clubs is W5 D1 L1. We had not conceded in five successive fixtures against visitors from the country (W4 D1) until the most recent such encounter, a last-gasp 3-2 win against Vitoria SC in the group stage of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League, in which current Sporting forward Marcus Edwards opened the scoring for the visitors.
Sporting's 28 UEFA fixtures against English clubs have yielded ten wins and 11 defeats. They have won two of their 14 games away to English sides (D5 L7), the most recent success a 3-2 victory at Middlesbrough in the 2004/05 UEFA Cup round of 16 first leg.
Their record in England since then is D4 L5, their last three matches there having all resulted in draws, most recently 1-1 against Tottenham on Matchday 5 of this season’s UEFA Champions League.
Experienced Spanish official, Antonio Mateu Lahoz, will take charge of Thursday’s match. Mateu Lahoz has refereed at both the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, along with the 2016 summer Olympics in Brazil and Euro 2020.
He has shown 58 yellow cards and four reds in 12 LaLiga matches this season, and has also refereed three Champions League fixtures in 2022/23 - showing 11 yellows and sending off Rangers’ James Sands in a 3-0 home defeat to Napoli.
Assistant referees: Pau Cebrian Devis (ESP), Roberto del Palomar (ESP)
Fourth official: Ricardo de Burgos (ESP)
Video Assistant Referee: Massimiliano Irrati (ITA)
Assistant Video Assistant Referee: Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva (ESP)
The Breakdown Live
For all the pre-match build-up and in-game analysis, join Nick Bright and Adrian Clarke for The Breakdown Live from 7pm onwards.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.