Arsenal v Sporting CP – Pictures
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Arsenal crashed out of the Europa League after a devastating penalty shootout defeat by Sporting Lisbon. Gabriel Martinelli had the crucial spot-kick saved after a 1-1 draw in normal time left the aggregate score 3-3.
Here are five takeaways.
Arsenal prove Ten Hag wrong
In midweek, Erik ten Hag claimed Arsenal have been able to keep the core of their squad fit for the entire season. Speaking about the injuries and suspensions at Manchester United this season, the Dutchman said: “We have to deal with it well but Arsenal, all the time their squad is totally available.”
But Ten was proved wrong in just 25 minutes at the Emirates Stadium. First, Takehiro Tomiyasu was taken off with an injury. Even more concerningly, William Saliba hobbled off with a problem soon after.
Arteta will hope that neither injury is long-term. The Spaniard cannot afford to have too many injuries during the Premier League run-in.
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Arteta reshuffled his midfield with only Granit Xhaka remaining from the usual trio of the Swiss, Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey. It left plenty of pressure on Xhaka’s shoulders to lead Arsenal’s midfield.
And the 30-year-old did so brilliantly. He constantly pressed Sporting, won possession, led counter-attacks and finished off a sweeping move to open the scoring.
Xhaka’s celebration – with his thumb on his nose and wagging his fingers – epitomised a man enjoying his football. A once-maligned figure, he will be crucial in driving Arsenal towards the Premier League title now they are out of Europe.
Arteta risk fails
The Arsenal boss made several changes for this game, risking a disjointed performance that would see his side crash out of the Europa League. That gamble ultimately failed for the 40-year-old, with Arsenal unable to see off Sporting in normal time.
Odegaard, Partey, Ben White, Bukayo Saka were all taken out of the starting 11. Tomiyasu, Jorginho, Fabio Silva and Reiss Nelson hardly made a strong claim for more regular inclusion.
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Edwards’ Premier League audition
Marcus Edwards has already impressed in games against Arsenal and former club Tottenham this season. And the Englishman was excellent again on home turf.
The former wonderkid – once likened to Lionel Messi by Mauricio Pochettino – had to rebuild his career after failing to make the grade at Spurs. He has done so incredibly well in Portugal, and is now being linked with big-money moves back to the Premier League.
Edwards carved two excellent opportunities for himself. Aaron Ramsdale made an excellent save to deny the Londoner in the second half.
Huddle shows Arsenal mentality shift
Arsenal used to be labelled weak and were often unable to cope with setbacks. Not anymore.
After Pedro Goncalves stunning 46-yard goal to equalise for Sporting midway through the second half, Arsenal’s players held a team huddle in their own half. Several players had a say as the stars let off steam.
Even though Arsenal lost, it is a major change from Arsenal teams that lacked leaders.
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