Arsenal’s exit from the Europa League is a blessing in disguise

LONDON — Arsenal were eliminated from the Europa League on penalties in the Round of 16 as Sporting CP won a penalty shootout at the Emirates Stadium on Thursday to put the Portuguese side through to the quarters.

With a balanced 2-2 draw from the first leg, Granit Xhaka put the home side ahead after 19 minutes with a low drive. But Pedro Goncalves scored a stunning equalizer in the 62nd minute, flicking a shot over Gunners goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale from inside the Arsenal half. Sporting’s Manuel Ugarte was sent off with two minutes to go after receiving a second yellow card for a late tackle against Bukayo Saka.

In extra time, Gabriel had a header in the 117th minute which goalkeeper Antonio Adan brilliantly parried before being thwarted again from the resulting corner, this time by Ousmane Diomande, who cleared his attempt off the line.

The teams couldn’t be separated in 120 minutes and after the first seven penalties were scored, Arsenal striker Gabriel Martinelli saved his penalty from Adan, giving Nuno Santos a chance to propel Sporting into their first quarter-finals in European competition since 2018 to send .

Fast reaction

1. Arsenal were left with only the Premier League race

When the dust settles after that agonizing defeat Arsenal will look to turn their European exit into something positive as they now have only one competition – the Premier League, the main one – to fight for.

They were at their strongest when manager Mikel Arteta was able to name a permanent side and, if anything, that unexpectedly early exit from the Europa League is perhaps the biggest indicator of that. Arteta made six changes for the first leg, five again here, and on both occasions they were incoherent and well short of their fluid best.

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Sporting Lisbon deserved to go the distance and in truth, Arsenal were a little lucky to pull it into extra time. With that, the Gunners can now focus on naming their best starting line-up for their 11 upcoming Premier League games, knowing that 10 wins will earn them their first title since 2004.

Losing to Sporting is nonetheless a major setback when you consider that one of the remaining unknowns this season is whether this young Arsenal group can keep their nerve under the greatest pressure – and they have failed to do that here. That will only raise further questions as to whether they can handle the rarefied atmosphere of a title race and with Crystal Palace visiting Emirates Stadium on Sunday Arteta doesn’t have long to rally the troops.

2. It never rains but it pours with Arsenal worrying

The sight of Takehiro Tomiyasu, and particularly William Saliba, lagging away within the first 21 minutes is obviously a cause for concern.

Arteta was critical of his side’s defense in the first leg and they looked shaky here with Ben White brought in at right-back to replace Tomiyasu and Rob Holding, who partnered with Gabriel Magalhaes in defence.

On top of that, Gabriel went down with an injury early in the second period but lasted the full 120 minutes. Leandro Trossard had a limp towards the end, while Oleksandr Zinchenko kept holding his Achilles tendon in the closing stages.

Each player will be rated in the coming days but the move to Crystal Palace is fast. Gabriel Jesus’ first start since knee surgery was positive, registering six touches in the opponent’s box and two shots on target, but was stopped when he was withdrawn at half-time as an apparent precaution. After all, Arsenal had been forced to make two substitutions and only had a window in the second half to make another change due to substitution rules.

It’s easy to assume that with Arsenal in contention for the Premier League title, win or lose on Thursday, the last thing Arteta wanted was extra time. Some fans were actually more affected than others – during the second half, two leaks in the stadium roof forced fans in the affected areas to disperse and shelter from the downpour. Call it symbolism if you like.

3. Penalty shootouts make history at the Emirates Stadium

Emirates Stadium opened in 2006 and this was the first competitive penalty shoot-out ever to be played here.

In fact, it was Arsenal’s first penalty shootout in European competition since 2009 against Roma – although Sporting had to wait longer as their last European penalty shootout, remarkably, came in 1989.

Of course, this wasn’t the piece of history Arsenal wanted and Martinelli will take it particularly hard as he was the only player to miss on penalties.

The Brazilian suffered a slight dip in form a few weeks ago before regaining his best level in recent weeks but his penalty shootout miss is a new setback he now has to overcome. After being left out of Brazil’s new squad, he will likely want another chance against Palace ‘otherwise there will be two weeks before his mistake’.

Best and worst performers

Best: Pedro Goncalves, Sporting CP

No one has scored from further away in UEFA competition this season.

Best: Marcus Edwards, Sporting CP

Arsenal regularly struggled to cut off their right foot with their left foot, despite missing a glorious chance to send Sporting through in regular time.

Best: Granit Xhaka, Arsenal

He scored his first goal since October and recovered more balls (11) than any other Arsenal player.

Worst: Reiss Nelson, Arsenal

Another missed chance after a disappointing first leg. Was largely ineffective here except for a dangerous cross and replaced Saka in the 65th minute.

Worst: Fabio Vieira, Arsenal

Chosen the wrong option more than once in the final third, causing groans from the home crowd. Won one of his 11 duels.

Worst: Rob Holding, Arsenal

Unable to replicate Saliba’s assured presence, although in fairness he has only played a regular minute of football since January 27 and was unexpectedly thrown in here due to the Frenchman’s injury.

Highlights and notable moments

Arsenal went into Thursday’s Europa League second leg feeling in a good position – having tied on goals with Sporting CP after the first leg in Portugal and the home game, Arsenal remained the clear favourites.

But the thing about being favorites is you still have to score and get the result, and Granit Xhaka wasted no time to give the Gunners an early lead with his 19th-minute strike.

Arsenal appeared to be tackling but then Pedro Goncalves seemingly pulled a rabbit out of a hat and made something out of nothing.

After intercepting the ball in midfield, Goncalves lifted his head and noticed Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale off his line and so he scored and scored a sensational goal from near the halfway line.

Sporting Lisbon almost scored again less than 10 minutes later, with an excellent chance in the box for Marcus Edwards.

But Ramsdale came out big to hold onto the score.

When the game went into overtime, it was the goalkeeper at the other end of the field who intervened.

Goalkeeper Antonio Adan made a tremendous save to maintain the block when Leandro Trossard came into play from behind Sporting’s defense after 97 minutes.

After the game: What the coaches and players said

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta on his Europa League exit: “The disappointment won’t go away, it’s there now. But there is also a clarity. There are 11 games left and we have a final against Crystal Palace. We need to recover and put our full focus on it and win.”

Arteta on his side’s performance: “We didn’t win enough duels in some areas. We didn’t put enough pressure on the ball.

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard on the end of the Europa League: “We have to remember it was a great season. It’s a big blow to be eliminated from this competition but now we’re looking forward to the league, that’s all we can do now. We win and lose together. If we win everyone is happy, if we lose we have to catch the spirit.”

Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)

  • Advancing at Arsenal sees Sporting CP reach their first quarter-finals in European competition since the 2017-18 Europa League quarter-finals (which they lost to Atlético Madrid).

  • Pedro ‘Pote’ Gonçalves’ goal from 49.3 meters is the longest goal scored in all UEFA competition this season.

  • This is Arsenal’s 59th game in the Europa League since 2017-18. It’s only her second extension in that span. The previous instance came on February 27, 2020 in a 2-1 loss to Olympiakos.


Arsenal: The Gunners are back in the Premier League and hosting Crystal Palace on Sunday, March 19 at 10:00am ET.

Sporty CP: Lees Next up is the Portuguese Primeira Liga, where Santa Clara is the host on Sunday April 2nd. They will continue with the Europa League in April in the quarterfinals. Arsenal’s exit from the Europa League is a blessing in disguise

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