Sporting CP dump Arsenal out of Europa League as defensive injuries add to Mikel Arteta’s woes

LONDON — There will be no Budapest show for Arsenal. Instead, Mikel Arteta’s team has 11 more finals ahead of them, games that will determine whether this season is more glorious for the Gunners than anything the Europa League has to offer.

Frankly, they could hardly have tuned in to them more exhaustingly. This was not typical of their game in a 1-1 draw with Sporting, where the Portuguese won after a missed penalty by Gabriel Martinelli. Rather, it was all it took them more than two hours to get this far. Even those who didn’t play the full 120 minutes left the Emirates Stadium bruised, exhausted and soaked to the bone after a run-in with Ruben Amorim’s exuberant team. Most worryingly, William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu have sustained injuries that will leave Arteta sweaty after attending Crystal Palace on Sunday and the subsequent international break.

An incredible title fight that will define this season far deeper than anything they’ll achieve in second-tier competition on the continent has been fueled by Arteta’s ability to name a nearly unchanged team on a weekly basis. Arsenal don’t have a “fully available” squad, Erik ten Hag said on Wednesday night. Oleksandr Zinchenko and Thomas Partey were not included in the starting XI in 15 Premier League matches between themselves. Gabriel Jesus’ start today was his first in any competition since November 12th. Arteta didn’t have to make changes to his Manchester United counterpart’s frequency because he didn’t see players lose their tempers in the spectacular way that Harry Maguire and Anthony did. Why change a formula that is so consistently profitable?

To be sure, Arsenal’s injuries have largely left their base undisturbed, with Mohamed Elneni, Jorginho, Kieran Tierney, Eddie Nketiah and Leandro Trossard filling in the gaps effectively. Everything can change. If the back injury that forced Saliba off the field in the 19th minute is serious, then Arsenal’s entire style of play is at risk, especially if Tomiyasu is also ruled out for an extended period after an awkward slide early in the game. After the match, Saliba showed no signs of wearing belts and Tomiyasu walked on crutches.

The two players who carry the most load on this team are its centre-backs. Zinchenko can go far and wide because Gabriel plays two positions at once. Balls into the space behind Ben White are easily picked up by Saliba. These two are shrewd in their passing, but most importantly, they have the physique and vision of the danger to come, allowing those ahead of them to pin down opponents with numbers in the final third.

With all due respect to Rob Holding, a player who never made a public complaint when he shuffled the depth chart, instead relegating himself to a late game role to cling to points closer to, he can’t offer Arteta. remotely comparable qualities. He threw himself at any ball that came his way, Paulinho and Francisco Trincao did not give decisive blocks, but he was embarrassed to go into midfield under pressure from the opponent.

He may be good enough to see Arsenal through his visit to Crystal Palace on Sunday and at halftime, but his experience at Tottenham last season lured into an early red card that wiped out a bright start to his teammates, serves as a warning about what happens when the Gunners use limited defense in the biggest games.

The catastrophe may be premature as the international breakthrough is fast approaching. Tomiyasu is not the best choice, of course, a valuable reserve, but one whose absence can be endured. If he had been in good shape and Saliba was not, then Arteta could have simply returned to a four-fifths defense that was eminently reliable last season. However, these two injuries immediately cast doubt on Arteta’s decision to oppose Sporting so strongly.

Not that he could afford to just unload his bench. He was a tough opponent who broke Arsenal’s rhythm from the start with his organized pressing and aggressive tackles in midfield. Trincao darted back and forth down the left flank, while Paulinho’s size and mobility proved to be a real test for an ever-changing defence. Granit Xhaka’s powerful rebounding shot from Gabriel Martinelli did not break their resolve, and Manuel Ugarte’s thunderous low shot that swept past Aaron Ramsdale’s far post was only a harbinger of what was to come.

Jorginho did a good job passing the ball to Arsenal in the engine room, but his touch was heavy and his gliding didn’t get him any closer to possession. Pedro Gonçalves entered the game with two touches to calm down before hitting an iron nine from 46 yards. So often these goals are tied to goalkeeper errors and yes, Ramsdale would probably have saved him if he had been a yard or two closer to his goal line. If he was, however, there would be half a dozen dangerous moments that he would not be able to use. And to be honest, it would still be a good save even if it was those few feet deeper.

The name Nayim may mean little to a team too young to remember the 1995 European Cup Winners’ Cup final, but the Emirates Stadium needed no reminder. As the rain poured down through the roof of the Emirates, forcing some of the people in front of the End of the Hour and the East Stand to vacate their seats, they could be forgiven for thinking this was the night that Leandro Trossar’s every shot had to bounce. fast. Even the cheers of late replacement Martin Odegaard eased the tension for a moment. Everyone knew that this game was running its course, that they had to save their energy to boo every Sporting penalty to the sky.

It wasn’t enough to confuse them. Ramsdale may have come close to Gonzalo Inacio’s manual effort, but the rest were amazed at the accuracy and purpose. So it was with Arsenal, until Martinelli got too close to Antonio Adana, who made two brilliant late saves from Gabriel to put Sporting in a shootout in front of Clock End. With these words, another trophy slipped from their hands, but this season has long been a dedication to home honors. The significance of this game may not be clear until we see the impact it has on the name change.


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