Arsenal (1) 1 Sporting Clube de Portugal (0) 1 (3-3 on aggregate)
(Sporting Clube de Portugal won 5-3 on penalties)
Europa League, Round of Sixteen, Second Leg of Two
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Thursday, 16th March 2023. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-4-2-) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, William Saliba, Gabriel Magalhães, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Reiss Nelson, (Jorge Luiz Frello Filho) Jorginho, Granit Xhaka (c), Fabio Vieira; Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus.
Substitutes: Kieran Tierney, Ben White, Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe, Jakob Kiwior, Rob Holding, Leandro Trossard, Matt Turner, James Hillson.
Scorers: Granit Xhaka (19 mins)
Yellow Cards: Fabio Vieira, Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 53%
Referee: Antonio Mateu Lahoz (Spain)
Assistant Referees: Pau Cebrian Devis (Spain), Roberto Diaz Perez (Spain)
Fourth Official: Ricardo De Burgos Bengoetxea (Spain)
Referee Observer: Andreas Schluchter (Switzerland)
VAR Team at UEFA: VAR Massimiliano Irrati (Italy); AVAR Ignacio Iglesias Villanueva (Spain)
Attendance: circa 60,000
Another week, another huge game for both the club and its supporters as well. Eddie Nketiah is still injured, and therefore misses tonight’s match. However, it is good to see Gabriel Jesus in the first team line-up tonight, which sees a few changes from last Sunday’s game at Fulham.
We kicked off the proceedings on this rainy North London night, and with high expectations all round, the crowd are in fine fettle; let us hope that the boys pick up on this aatmosphere and win this match. The visitors certainly brought the game to us in the early stages; it was sad to see Takehiro Tomiyasu not being able to take any further part in this game due to an unfortunate injury in the ninth minute of the game. His place was taken by Ben White, and although we are playing well both on and off the ball, the visitors are pressing us back in our own half. We were extremely fortunate not to concede an early goal when Francisco Trincão cut inside and took a snap shot at our goal, missing the far post by inches. We then started to wake up a bit and Jorginho chipped a ball forward that ran away from Gabriel Jesus and into the arms of the Sporting goalkeeper, Antonio Adan. We then opened the scoring on the nineteenth minute when Gabriel Martinelli was played in behind the Sporting defence; he ran in from the left wing and saw his shot blocked, but captain Granit Xhaka was there on the follow-up to smash a shot home. William Saliba then walked off with an injury, and was replaced by Rob Holding, and we started to push back the visitors in their own half, and a big call for a penalty came when Gabriel Jesus went down after an outstretched leg felled him; amazingly, the referee never gave us a penalty because of a previous offside incident, which was a shame. Fabio Vieira was booked for a silly challenge, and the match was starting to edge towards us, albeit very slowly. Marcus Edwards ran deep into the our half, Oleksandr Zinchenko ran alongside him and our man came out on top, holding the Sporting forward up and then blocking his shot before clearing, in a show of great defending. Gabriel Jesus was found in the penalty area by Granit Xhaka before beating a couple of defenders and hitting a low shot that was saved by Antonio Adan. A couple of minutes later, Gabriel Jesus had got three defenders in front of him but he took an excellent first touch. He somehow managed to get his shot away through the legs of the defender but Antonio Adan got down to make a good save. Gabriel Jesus is causing problems for the Sporting defenders, and is sensational out there tonight. Gabriel Martinelli ran down the left-hand side; he is alone and he has to stop it going out inititally and then was able to twist and turn; he played a lovely ball to Gabriel Jesus who took a good first touch, but his second ran away from him. Our desire to score a second goal before the break is there for all to see, and although the Sporting attackers are stringing some good passes together, at the moment we are holding them out extremely well. There were four minutes injury time awarded and during it, Granit Xhaka received our second yellow card of the match because of a clumsy challenge, and although there was a dangerous moment or two, we went into half-time as deserved leaders.
For the second half, Leandro Trossard replaced Gabriel Jesus, and early on in the half, Gabriel went down to the floor, injured after helping repelling a Sporting attack; thankfully, he was able to continue playing. The visitors are pressing us back in our half and are finding their men well, it has to be said. Aaron Ramsdale came out of his goal to dive and push away Ricardo Esgaio’s sharp cross from the right wing ahead of another Sporting player, and we are allowing them to play their game and cause us issues. Rob Holding is playing well tonight, doing well to stop their players whenever he is able; we need to take his example and get a serious grip of this match. And sure enough, just afater the hour we conceded the equaliser when Pedro Gonçalves, sseeing Aaron Ramsdale off his line, hit the ball from just past the halfway line, and despite our goalie trying to get back to save it, the ball (and Aaron Ramsdale) ended up into the back of our net. Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka replaced Reiss Nelson and Fabio Vieira shortly afterwards to put some steel and fire into the team, and with just over twenty minutes of the game remaining, it remains to be seen if we can turn this match around. Rob Holding received our third yellow card of the evening after a silly tackle, and a couple of minutes later, Aaron Ramsdale made a brilliant save to deny Marcius Edwards with the side of his face. A miracle save to keep us in the game. With ten minutes of the match remaining, after much desperate football by both sides, Leandro Trossard swung the corner into the gathered bodies in the box. It glances off Gabriel’s head and goes wide. We had a penalty appeal turned down, despite being fairly obvious, and with the clock ticking down, it is looking like extra time now. Both teams are doing their best to try and finish it before then, but it is hard to say as to whether that will happen. A Marcus Edwards shot from long range went flying over the bar, and during the four minutes injury time, although there was plenty of effort, no goals were scored.
And so the visitors kicked off the first period of extra time, and we took the game to them immediately. The ball broke to Fabio Vieira on the edge of the Sporting penalty area. He can turn and shoot, but instead tried to flick the ball to a team-mate and gave it away. Then a minute later, Ben White won the ball high up but his pass to send Fabio Vieira in on goal was too heavy and it went nowhere. Leandro Trossard was gifted the ball by a thoughtless pass from a Sporting player. He ran in goal and steadied himself before shooting but his effort hit the arm of Sporting keeper Antonio Adan and then hit the post before being cleared. Fabio Vieira was replaced by Martin Ødegaard (who was handed the capttain’s armband by Granit Xhaka) and we started to look good; almost innmediately he was in on the action when he sent a ball through to Bukayo Saka, but he was offside. Youssef Chermiti went down holding his ankle after a fair challenge from Gabriel; surprisingly, the referee waved dismissively for him to get up. After a corner which was cleared by a Sporting defender, the referee blew the whistle for the end of the first period of extra time. We kicked off the last period of extra time; fifteen minutes to go, and if it is not resolved, then it is penalties. A ball from the right broke for Thomas Partey but he fired his shot wide, and then Leandro Trossard darted to the byline to receive the ball and then slotted a cross that Martin Ødegaard shot well off target. We are continually probing and pushing; Martin Ødegaard sent a neat pass through the Sporting defence for Bukayo Saka but he can only chip a cross straight to goalkeeper Antonio Adan. We are starting to get ahead of the oppoositon now, tough as it is, tonight. With four minutes of the match remaining, a Martin Ødegaard free kick found the head of Gabriel, whose header was saved by Antonio Adan, just before a red card was given to Manuel Ugarte for a terrible tackle on Bukayo Saka. A couple of minutes later, the referee blew for the end of the match, and we now have penalties!
Jeremiah St. Juste scored the first one, equalised by Martin Ødegaard, then Ricardio Esgaio took the second, with Bukayo Saka scoring for us. Inacio Goncalo took their third penalty, which was almost saved by Aaron Ramsdale. Leandro Trossard scored for us to equalise the scores. Arthur Gomes scored for Sporting, but Gabriel Martinelli’s penalty was saved by Antonio Adan. The final act of the night was taken by Nuno Santos, and we were out of the competition.
At the end of the day, it was a very disappointing result, especially after such a physically and mentally demanding match. We almost won it several times in the second half (and in extra time too), but it was not to be, sadly. The visitors had a game plan, and by and large it worked. We shall learn from this, and when we come back in European competition next year, they will be tougher for the experience. Maybe next time.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Crystal Palace at the Emirates on Sunday, 19th March at 2.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
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The league is the big one but I was gutted last night. Thought we had a right good chance at winning the competition and I fancied 3 or 4 days in Budapest for the final. Oh well, never mind. Didn`t think we done enough to through and thought they were the better team over the 90 minutes. Extra time was one big frustration because we pretty much battered them and the gulf in class was obvious but if you don`t approach games with the right mindset then you`re going to get done. We paid the price last night, hopefully we learn from it and don`t repeat it from now until the end of the season.
Up The Arse.