Hello and welcome to Sports Mole
's live text coverage of the Europa League
clash between Arsenal
and Sporting Lisbon
at the Emirates Stadium. The Gunners picked up a vital 1-0 win when these sides faced off in Portugal exactly a fortnight ago, leaving them top of Group E and in touching distance of a place in the first knockout round of the competition.
Victory tonight will be enough for the Gunners to go through as group winners with a couple of games to spare, whereas Sporting now have work to do following that loss on home soil two weeks ago. Arsenal will also be assured of a place in the last 32 if they better Vorskla Poltava's result at home to pointless Qarabag elsewhere this evening - a match that Sporting will also have a close eye on.
ARSENAL TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Cech; Lichtsteiner, Sokratis, Holding, Jenkinson; Guendouzi, Ramsey; Mkhitaryan, Smith Rowe, Iwobi; Welbeck
SUBS: Martinez, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Nketiah, Aubameyang
Starting with a look at the home side, manager Unai Emery
has decided - as expected - to rotate things on the back of the 1-1 draw with Liverpool last weekend. Among those to come into the side are goalkeeper Petr Cech, who is now seemingly second choice to Bernd Leno after returning from an untimely injury layoff, and lone striker Danny Welbeck
, given the chance to lead the line in the absence of Alexandre Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Carl Jenkinson is brought into the side at left-back for a rare appearance, with Emery not willing to risk Sead Kolasinac for a second time in a week following his return to action from a month-long layoff. Matteo Guendouzi is also restored to the starting lineup after sitting out the draw with Liverpool through suspension, being used tonight alongside Aaron Ramsey in defensive midfield. On that note, it appears as though the 4-2-3-1 formation remains.
Rob Holding is used at centre-back for the 11th time in 12 matches. Further forward, Emile Smith Rowe has done his reputation no harm with his performances in the cup competitions, while Alex Iwobi is surely knocking on the door for more regular starts in the Premier League. Both men can further enhance their reputations tonight, and that is pretty much the case for each of the starters in this rather mixed lineup named by Emery.
SPORTING LISBON TEAM NEWS!
STARTING XI: Ribeiro; Gaspar, Coates, Mathieu, Acuna; Nani, Miguel Luis, Gudelj, Bruno Fernandes; Montero, Diaby
SUBS: Salin, Jefferson, Ointo, Mane, Petrovic, Dost, Cabral
Switching focus to the visitors now, and stand-in boss Tiago Fernandes
has decided to use Miguel Luis in central midfield alongside Nemanja Gudelj, which is a bit of a surprise. The Euro Under-19s winner could also be used alongside Bruno Fernandes in a potential midfield three, though the club have this formation down as a 4-4-2 on their official teamsheet - one to keep an eye on.
If it is indeed a 4-4-2 formation, Fredy Montero and Abdoulay Diaby will lead the line for the visitors. Diaby picked up an injury in the 2-1 win against Santa Clara last Sunday and was considered doubtful for this trip to the English capital, but he is declared fit to start, unlike Rodrigo Battaglia who misses out on selection entirely after hobbling off half an hour into Sporting's most recent match.
There is also no Bas Dost in Sporting's starting lineup, with the Dutch striker - one of the most prolific players on the continent in recent years - clearly still not fully over the injury that kept him out of the reverse fixture between these two sides. Elsewhere, former Manchester United winger Nani is handed the captain's armband and ex-Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates starts at centre-back, alongside the fit-again Jeremy Mathieu
Arsenal make a total of nine changes from their 1-1 draw against Liverpool last weekend; Rob Holding and Henrikh Mkhitaryan the only two players to retain their place in the side. That means Danny Welbeck is tasked with leading the line for the home side, two weeks on from scoring the winning goal when the two sides last faced off.
PREVIOUS MEETINGS! Prior to last month's showdown at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, when Danny Welbeck struck 12 minutes from time for the game's decisive moment, these two sides had never previously met in UEFA competition. They did lock horns in the 1969-70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup second round, though, with Arsenal running out 3-0 winners in that one en route to lifting the trophy.
Arsenal have made light work of what is just their second ever Europa League
campaign, opening up with a 4-2 win over Vorskla Poltava before earning 3-0 and 1-0 wins away to Qarabag and Sporting respectively. That trip to the Portuguese capital 14 days ago was a pivotal moment in Group E, as Welbeck's well-taken strike maintained Arsenal's winning run and put them in complete control of the group.
The Gunners are three points better off than Sporting and still have third-placed Vorskla and bottom side Qarabag to face over the next five weeks. Those latter to matches may well be dead-rubbers, however, as victory tonight will make sure of a place in the last 32 for Emery's men, and even a point could be enough if Vorskla do not get the result they are after against Qarabag. Updates from that other Group E match will be provided throughout the night.
Emery is not targeting just the one point tonight but all three, knowing that victory will - theoretically, at least - secure an easier last-16 tie on paper, avoiding all the Champions League dropouts. Having drawn two of their last three matches in all competitions, both coming in the Premier League, Arsenal will also be keen to get some wins back on the board ahead of their home match with Wolverhampton Wanderers on Sunday.
Arsenal had won 11 games in a row, culminating in their late victory in Portugal, before being held 2-2 at Crystal Palace 11 days ago, which they followed up with an EFL Cup last-16 win against Blackpool and a 1-1 draw with Liverpool. That does leave them unbeaten in 14 matches, however, and it is fair to say that the Liverpool stalemate had far more positives than negatives. Emery really has brought the feel-good factor back to these parts.
That latest point leaves Arsenal just outside the Premier League's top four. It is difficult to work out what exactly equates to a good first season at the Emirates Stadium helm for Emery, though finishing higher than last term's sixth place will be a good start, as will challenging for the Europa League and other domestic honours. As a three-time winner of this competition, the Spaniard certainly has what it takes to go all the way.
Arsenal almost made a perfect start to their European campaign 12 months ago, only to be held to a 0-0 draw here by Red Star Belgrade on this same matchday to halt their momentum somewhat. That was one of two home draws for the Gunners in their only previous Europa League campaign, winning four and losing one of the other six - that solitary defeat coming at the hands of Ostersunds FK in the last 32.
The North London outfit, then under the management of Arsene Wenger, scored 18 goals and conceded six across those seven fixtures. Including the 4-2 win against Vorskla a couple of months back, meanwhile, it is eight goals conceded at home in the Europa League for Arsenal, and they have failed to keep out the opposition in any of their last five attempts. Ostersunds, AC Milan, CSKA Moscow, Atletico Madrid and Vorskla have all netted here.
That is something that Emery will have to work on, and the Spaniard may well have prioritised keeping a clean sheet tonight to gear up his side for those tougher future tests. Arsenal are almost certain to be in the hat for the last 32, but lessons must be learned from last season when crashing out to Atletico in the semi-finals. As harsh as it sounds, a repeat of that this time around will be considered a real disappointment.
Arsenal have won all three of their opening Group E fixtures and now need just three more points to seal top spot. The Gunners made it through to the last four of the Europa League last season, and Unai Emery - a three-time winner of this competition - will be looking to go at least one better in his maiden campaign in charge.
DID YOU KNOW? Sporting Lisbon have faced English opposition on 22 previous occasions, winning nine and losing 10 of those, though they have won just twice on their last 11 visits and are winless in six. Arsenal, meanwhile, have won their last four home matches against Primeira Liga opposition, scoring 17 goals without reply.
Sporting have sacked manager Jose Peseiro since going down 2-1 to Arsenal in the reverse fixture; the home loss to Estoril in the cup proving to be the last straw for disgruntled president Frederico Varandas, who bowed to the complaints from the 10,000 or so supporters in attendance at the Estadio Jose Alvalade for that Halloween fixture. Tiago Fernandes
has stepped up from his role as assistant boss for the time being.
Paulo Sousa, who is unemployed following a stint in China, Jose Mourinho's former assistant Rui Faria, Portugal Under-21s coach Rui Jorge and former Sporting boss Jorge Jesus, who only left at the end of last season, are all said to be in the frame to succeed Peseiro. However, reports in Portugal suggest that ex-Ajax chief Marcel Keizer is the frontrunner as talks are ongoing between the club and Al Jazira.
The Lions will hope to have a new man in charge as soon as possible, whoever it may be, as they could be left scrapping it out for a place in the last 32 of this competition. Sporting are still favourites to finish in second place, even if they did succumb to a 1-0 loss to Arsenal a couple of weeks back, as they are still three points better off than Vorskla, who they meet on the final matchday.
The 2-1 win against the Ukrainian minnows on matchday two is starting to look even more important for the Portuguese giants, building on a 2-0 win against Qarabag in their opening game. Taking a point back to Lisbon tonight will be considered a positive outcome for Fernandes, leaving Sporting in front of the chasing pack no matter what happens in that game taking place in Ukraine.
Since losing to Arsenal last month, Sporting have defeated Boavista and Santa Clara in the Portuguese top flight, though those wins came either side of a shock Taca da Liga loss to Estoril, which cost Peseiro his job. The Lions finished last season third in the Primeira Liga and are third after nine games of this season, suggesting that their wait for a top-flight title will stretch into a 17th year - Porto and Benfica are the dominant force in Portugal.
Sporting boast plenty of knowhow in this competition, however, as this is the seventh time they have participating in it since its inception in 2009-10, including five appearances in the group stage. They reached the semi-finals five years ago and, more recently, were knocked out at the quarter-final stage by Arsenal's conquerors Atletico Madrid; a 2-0 home loss in the first leg proving to be too much to overturn.
The Portuguese side have won six and lost nine of their last 16 away European matches and are without a clean sheet in a whopping 30 attempts, stretching back to a victory over FC Zurich on matchday one in the 2011-12 Europa League. They also have just two clean sheets in their last nine matches of the current campaign, suggesting that they will need to breach the Gunners' backline if they are to take anything away from this game.
Unai Emery: "Each match is more information for how we can improve. Tonight is the same. It is clear against Liverpool we played a big match against a team that in the Premier League at the moment along with Manchester City is the best. But it isn't enough. It was a draw and a good result but we need more. We can continue preparing and improving in things to be closer to winning games against Liverpool and other teams."
Tiago Fernandes: "As manager of Sporting, every game you play with this team is to win. I do what the chairman has asked me and tomorrow I will do the same as I have throughout the week. I have had help from the players. That motivates me and I have happiness to represent this team in the competition and to manage players with this quality. I will carry on with Sporting while they need me."
KICKOFF: Sporting Lisbon, showing four changes from the reverse fixture against Arsenal, get us up and running at the Emirates Stadium. The visitors have won twice on their last 11 visits to England and are not considered great travellers in this competition.
Arsenal are dominating possession in the early stages, with each pass being greeted by jeers from the away end. Sporting, you feel, have a lot more to lose than the Gunners this evening.
Abdoulay Diaby gets in a shot from nothing on the edge of the opposition box, which is blocked to safety. Emile Smith Rowe is positioned more like a second striker than a right-sided attacking midfielder early on here.
Emery is already out in his technical area, barking out instructions. Arsenal have often started games slowly this season, and they have not really found their flow in the first seven minutes of this fourth Group E outing.
Better football from Arsenal, but Emile Smith Rowe could not quite pick out a player in red and white at the end of the move. Good composure from Acuna to clear his lines, almost sparking a counter-attack in the process.
Sporting fans are making an awful lot of noise inside the Emirates Stadium. They have not had too much to celebrate this term, particularly over the past two weeks, but a win here would pretty much make up for their inconsistent start to the season.
Abdoulay Diaby sent his cross into the box from the left far earlier than anyone expected, and Arsenal were able to deal with the danger. There has not been an awful lot between the two sides in these opening 13 minutes.
A very slow tempo feel to the match at the moment. Arsenal are seeing more of the ball than their opponents, but they have not yet been able to fashion a shooting chance.
Emile Smith Rowe, seemingly playing in a central attacking role tonight, manages to get a shot away but sends it sailing well over the crossbar. Still, that is better from the Gunners' perspective - they now need to build some momentum.
OFF THE LINE! Young academy product Emile Smith Rowe is involved again for Arsenal, but this latest attack also breaks down before it comes to anything. From the next move, though, Matteo Guendouzi's cross was flicked towards his own goal by Jeremy Mathieu, which required stopping on the line by one of his teammates.
Sebastian Coates was the player in the right place at the right time to clear that loose ball off the line. Good play from Matteo Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey in the build-up to that chance, as Arsenal start to shift through the gears.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, one of two starters to retain his place from the draw with Liverpool, sends a free kick into the middle and Danny Welbeck got on the end of it. The striker was under pressure and could not make clean contact, though, sending it wide.
Arsenal, who saw Stephan Lichsteiner booked for a strong challenge on Nani a couple of minutes ago, are being urged on by their supporters now. A decent atmosphere inside the Emirates Stadium, helped by the sizeable away following.
GROUP E UPDATE! Araz Abdullayev has given Qarabag the lead against Vorskla in the other Group E match taking place this evening - a good scoreline for Arsenal and Sporting. The Gunners are heading through as things stands.
SAVE! Danny Welbeck gets his head on the end of another cross, this time via the boot of Stephen Lichsteiner, but it was aimed too close to Ruben Ribeiro. The English striker appears to have hurt himself with the landing, too - a real concern for both Welbeck and Arsenal.
ARSENAL SUB! Danny Welbeck, named in England's squad earlier today, is not in a good way at all. The physios ran on with oxygen and a stretcher, spelling the end of the striker's evening. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang comes on in his place.
Plenty of concerned looks on the faces of Arsenal's players as Danny Welbeck was stretchered off the field - it will be interesting to see how they react to that blow. Carl Jenkinson sends in a cross from the left that had a bit too much pace on it.
This first half has not really got going, not helped by the lengthy delay for Danny Welbeck to receive some treatment. Even if they do not find a way through tonight, Arsenal will progress through to the last 32 as things stand.
Fredy Montero catches Aaron Ramsey right on the back of his calf, but the referee let it go unpunished. A little over 10 minutes to go until half time in North London and Arsenal, despite dominating possession, as struggling to create much.
Arsenal and Sporting are all square here, while Qarabag lead Vorskla 1-0 in Ukraine, meaning that Arsenal are heading for the last 32 of the Europa League. Emery will see positives from his side's display, but a goal would be nice.
Stephan Lichsteiner, who scored here against Blackpool last week, blasts a shot well wide of the target from range. The closest Arsenal have come to a breakthrough was via Jeremy Mathieu's flick, which almost resulted in an own goal.
YELLOW CARD! Gaspar trips Iwobi and is shown the game's second yellow card, joining Lichsteiner in seeing yellow. Before that, Sporting had a weak penalty shout for handball rejected by the referee. Two minutes of normal time in this first half to play.
Arsenal guilty of falling asleep on a couple of occasions over the past five minutes or so, but Sporting Lisbon have been unable to take advantage. It has been a first half of limited goalmouth action, though Arsenal have just won a free kick in a good crossing position.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan swings in the free kick, getting far too much power and bend on the ball to send it right out of play. It looks like being a disappointing end to the first half for Arsenal, who have just 120 seconds to find a breakthrough goal.
HALF TIME: ARSENAL 0-0 SPORTING LISBON
The referee brings a pretty bland first half to a close in North London. Sporting Lisbon barely ventured forward all half, though they did well to restrict their opponents to few opportunities, meaning that we are all square at the midway point.
The slow tempo feel to the first half was not helped by the injury to Danny Welbeck, who stayed down after heading Stephan Lichsteiner's cross right at Ruben Ribeiro in the Sporting goal. Following around four minutes of treatment, the English striker was taken straight down the tunnel and now appears certain to miss his national side's upcoming matches.
Arsenal's only other opening in the first half came via another right-sided delivery, this time through Matteo Guendouzi on the overlap as his cross was turned goalwards by Jeremy Mathieu. The fit-again defender was spared the embarrassment of an own goal by teammate Sebastian Coates, who got back to clear the loose ball off the line.
Emile Smith Rowe and Stephen Lichsteiner, two of nine new faces on the back of the 1-1 draw against Liverpool
last weekend, also fired shots well wide of the target in a low-quality first half. Could we see any further changes at the break? Here is a reminder of both sides' benches...
ARSENAL SUBS: Martinez, Mustafi, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Torreira, Nketiah
SPORTING LISBON SUBS: Salin, Jefferson, Ointo, Mane, Petrovic, Dost, Cabral
KICKOFF: Arsenal, 45 minutes away from the knockout stages of the Europa League, get us back up and running at the Emirates Stadium. A Sporting Lisbon goal would make things interesting, but the Portuguese side seem happy to settle for a point.
OFF THE BAR! Having seen some images of that Danny Welbeck injury, it is clear to see why he was immediately given oxygen by the physios - he is facing another lengthy spell on the sidelines. Fast start to the second half for Arsenal, as Aubameyang guides Mkhitaryan's cross against the outside of the crossbar.
Jenkinson gets his body between the ball and the net to keep out Diaby's well-taken volley. Montero got a ball into the box from wide and nearly caught out Arsenal. This second half has already been livelier than the opening 45 minutes.
Unfortunately for the neutral, a goalless draw here suits both sides. Not suggesting that they will knock the ball around between them the longer this one goes on, but there does not appear to be any sort of urgency to either sides' play.
Some good play from Emile Smith Rowe down the left ends in disappointment - not for the first time tonight - as he slips when attempting to either cross the ball or shoot into the far corner. Emery may well be tempted to make a second change.
Arsenal have had 65% of the ball tonight, without doing a great deal with it. Ribeiro had a save to make and Coates stepped the ball on the line, but the visiting side are hardly holding on as we approach the hour mark.
Aaron Ramsey gets across well to halt the Sporting attack after Carl Jenkinson was caught out of position. Emery was pleased with that piece of defensive play from the Welshman, who is being fielded in a deeper role tonight.
SHOT! An hour has been played at the Emirates Stadium and it is still goalless. Nani runs into some space down the left but cannot find a way past Petr Cech, who had a routine catch to make in the middle. Up the other end, Aubameyang shoots into the side-netting.
ARSENAL SUB! That is a couple of half-chances now for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in this second half - if anyone is going to make a difference to the scoreline it looks likely to be him. Second Arsenal change, as Sean Kolasinac comes on for Carl Jenkinson.
A cross into the mix is so nearly pounced on by Fredy Montero, but Rob Holding got to it first - good defending. The Arsenal centre-back will be happy to have been given something to deal with on what has been a quiet evening.
Sporting deserve some credit for making life very tough for Arsenal in an attacking sense tonight. The Gunners will be through to the last 32 with this result and their opponents will not be far behind them, either - it is a good result for both.
The home fans are not happy as Fredy Montero stays down for a couple of minutes to receive treatment for what appears to be an ankle injury. There has been just the one shot on target all evening, coming via the head of Danny Welbeck.
SPORTING LISBON SUB! Bas Dost is brought on for the injured Fredy Montero in the hosts' first change of the night. Prior to that, Acuna was cautioned by the referee after protesting against the decision to award Arsenal a corner.
This match remains finely poised with less than a quarter of it to play. The Gunners are looking to step up the tempo, and their latest attack is ended prematurely in a cynical nature by Acuna, who was cautioned just a couple of minutes ago.
ARSENAL SUB! Another enforced change for Arsenal as Stephan Lichsteiner has pulled up with what appears to be a hamstring injury - that could be a few weeks out for the Swiss full-back, who is replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
YELLOW CARD! Miguel Luis, making his European debut tonight, is cautioned for pulling back on the shirt of Sokratis before fouling him. Matteo Guendouzi entered the referee's book a few minutes ago for stopping a Sporting counter. Card count piling up now!
Emery will be feeling bittersweet as we approach the final 10 minutes here, as his side are on the brink of booking a place in the last 32 of the competition, though they have lost Welbeck and Lichsteiner to potential mid-to-long-term injuries.
Sporting still have a couple of changes available to make should they wish, which Fernandes no doubt will to eat up some more valuable seconds. Qarabag still lead away to Vorskla, so Arsenal are in no desperate need to find a goal.
CLOSE! This is pretty much the closest we have come to a goal in this second half, and indeed in the game as a whole. Alex Iwobi threaded the ball through to Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the ball appeared to just bounce off the Armenian and was collected by Ribeiro.
SPORTING LISBON SUB! Coates does well to block Aubameyang's shot, which appeared to be heading for the back of the net. Cabral, who scored a late winner against Vorskla earlier this season, comes on for Diaby.
SPORTING LISBON SUB! Petrovic is on for young midfielder Miguel Luis for the final stages of this match. Sporting have defended very well this evening and will argue that they are good value for this point, which will keep them in a strong position behind Arsenal.
RED CARD! Jeremy Mathieu, who has been very good tonight, is shown a red card with a couple of minutes to play. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was charging through on goal before being tripped on the edge of the box - the referee was left with little choice.
That red card may have come a little too late in the game to have made a difference. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang took the free kick that he won, but his attempt was pretty poor as he sent the ball flying high and wide.
Five minutes have been added on here, two of which we have already played. Arsenal's players are starting to look very frustrated now, perhaps resigned to the fact that they have dropped two points - not that it will matter a great deal.
It has been a pretty disappointing contest, truth be told, with Arsenal only registering a couple of serious efforts. Nani goes down and stays down, leading to plenty of jeers from the home section. Just 60 seconds to go here...
FULL TIME: ARSENAL 0-0 SPORTING LISBON
Arsenal book their place in the last 32 of the Europa League, despite being held to a goalless draw by Sporting Lisbon here. The Gunners had the better of things and were given a further helping hand when Jeremy Mathieu saw red late on, but they failed to create any clear-cut openings and a draw was just about the right result in the end.