Sporting knock Arsenal out of the Europa League
Sporting CP advanced to the quarterfinals of the Europa League by defeating Arsenal in a shootout at Emirates Stadium on Thursday. Arsenal was eliminated from the competition on penalties.
Granit Xhaka gave the home team the lead on the night after 19 minutes with a low drive, leveling the series at 2-2 following the first leg. On 62 minutes, though, Pedro Goncalves equalized spectacularly by firing a ball just inside the Arsenal half over goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Two minutes from the finish, Manuel Ugarte of Sporting was dismissed for a late challenge on Bukayo Saka after collecting a second yellow card.
Gabriel was denied twice in extra time, first from a corner that Ousmane Diomande successfully cleared off the line and once from a header that Antonio Adan spectacularly saved in the 117th minute.
After 120 minutes of play failed to separate the teams, Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli's spot-kick was saved by Adan, allowing Nuno Santos to advance Sporting to their first quarterfinal in a European tournament since 2018.
Arsenal just has the Premier League race left now.
Given that they now only have one tournament — the Premier League, the most important one — left to compete for, Arsenal will try to convert their European elimination into something of a positive when the dust settles on this agonizing setback.
They have performed best when head coach Mikel Arteta can select a stable lineup, and if anything, their surprise early Europa League departure may be the largest proof of that. Six adjustments were made by Arteta for the first leg, and five were changed again during this game. Both times, they were fragmented and fell short of their flowing best.
Sporting Lisbon deserved to win, and in all honesty, Arsenal was a touch unlucky to force extra time. The Gunners can now focus on selecting their best starting lineup for their 11 remaining Premier League games with the knowledge that 10 wins will secure their first championship since 2004.
Despite this, the loss to Sporting is still a major setback since this young Arsenal team's ability to remain composed under extreme pressure was tested here, and they were unable to do so. It will only raise further concerns about their ability to manage the intense environment of a championship battle, and Arteta doesn't have much time to rally the troops because Crystal Palace will be playing at Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
It is understandable to be concerned when Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba both hobble off the field within the first 21 minutes.
Arteta criticized his team's defense in the first leg, and they looked shaky here with Gabriel Magalhaes partnered with Rob Holding and Ben White coming on at right back to replace Tomiyasu.
Gabriel also had an injury early in the second quarter but played the entire 120 minutes despite it. At the finish, Oleksandr Zinchenko could be seen repeatedly gripping his hamstring, and Leandro Trossard was observed to be limping.
The players will all be evaluated in the coming days, but Crystal Palace is the next opponent. Gabriel Jesus' first game after knee surgery was successful, with six touches in the opposition's box and two attempts on goal, but it was cut short when he was taken off as a precaution before halftime. After all, according to the regulations around replacements, Arsenal had already been compelled to make two changes and had only one more window in the second half to make another one.
It is reasonable to conclude that Arteta did not want extra time because of Arsenal's battle for the Premier League championship on Thursday, win or lose. Some spectators were put through a lot more than others because, during the second half, there were two stadium roof leaks, forcing people in the affected regions to scatter and seek shelter from the rain. You might refer to it as symbolism.
This was the first competitive penalty shootout ever held at Emirates Stadium, which opened in 2006.
Interestingly, Sporting had to wait longer, with their previous European penalty shootout being in 1989. This was Arsenal's first shootout in any European tournament since 2009 against Roma.
Arsenal didn't want this part of history, and Martinelli will take it particularly hard considering that he was the only shooter to miss.
The Brazilian experienced a little slump in form a few weeks ago before regaining his best form recently, but his mistake in the shootout that decided the match is a new setback he must now overcome. He will probably want another shot against Palace after being left out of Brazil's most recent team; otherwise, he will have to dwell on his error for the next two weeks.