Sporting Lisbon vs Arsenal predictions: Sporting will struggle to spike the Gunners
- Sporting have struggled against the top teams in Portugal and have one win in six in Europe
- Arsenal are full of confidence, winning their last four games and five of six in the group stage
- Recommended bet: Arsenal to win
Arsenal return to Europe after a four-month hiatus, and it will be interesting to see how manager Mikel Arteta approaches the Europa League.
When the Gunners last lined up in this competition, they secured a 1-0 victory over FC Zurich that guaranteed top spot in Group A while resting star men for a Premier League campaign that was encouraging but had not yet reached fever pitch.
In November, Arsenal were top of the league back then, but with just 12 games gone and plenty of tough tests to come, even the most optimistic of supporters had not yet dared to dream.
With the lead extended to five points and just 12 matches left to play, that is no longer the case.
Arsenal fans are starting to believe, and while Arteta may see continental competition as a distraction to the primary goal of Premier League glory, the momentum and form of his impressive young side could also take them deep into Europe.
Sporting Lisbon will be without midfielder Daniel Braganca, who has yet to return from a cruciate ligament injury sustained last May, and defensive midfielder Manuel Ugarte, who serves a one-match suspension.
Arteta could face a problem in his forward line with striker Gabriel Jesus not expected back until later this month, new signing Leandro Trossard having to come off with a groin injury at the weekend and Eddie Nketiah a slight doubt with an ankle problem.
Midfielder Mohamed Elneny will miss most of the rest of the season following knee surgery.
Sporting sit fourth in the Portuguese Primeira Liga and have won only one of their five matches against teams above them domestically. They lost home and away to Porto and drew away at Benfica and Braga but did thrash Braga 5-0 in the home meeting.
If Sporting are to bridge the five-point gap to the third and final Champions League spot in the Primeira Liga, they must improve on an away record that has seen them fail to win any of their five away trips to teams in the top half in Portugal.
And while they have been more reliable on home soil, winning nine of 11 games domestically, Sporting have yet to host runaway leaders Benfica, and they lost to second-placed Porto.
Ruben Amorim's side have also won only one of their last six European outings this term, a 4-0 victory against Midtjylland in Denmark after drawing the first leg of their knockout round play-off. Before that, Sporting took just one point from their final four matches of Champions League Group D, a controversial draw at Tottenham, losing home and away to Marseille and 2-1 at home to Eintracht Frankfurt to finish third in the group.
Arsenal have suffered no such difficulties in Europe, winning five of their six games this season to finish top of Europa League Group A despite Arteta rotating heavily on each occasion.
Arteta is likely to continue to rotate his squad to keep key men fresh for the Premier League, but such is the confidence and form of his team that they can be expected to ease past an underwhelming Sporting side.
The Portuguese outfit are decent on home soil and should offer plenty of attacking threat given they have scored in 13 of 15 home games this term, including against Tottenham, Eintracht Frankfurt and Porto and five against Braga.
The hosts will also fancy their chances of breaching a Gunners defence that is likely to feature reserve players such as Rob Holding and Takehiro Tomiyasu, who have failed to impress this season, so both teams to score looks a worthy addition to Bet Builder selections.
However, at odds-against, the best bet is to back an Arsenal side who look simply too strong for this level of opponent and will want to get the tie under control early so that the second leg in north London is a mere formality.
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