Arsenal are out of the Europa League, after losing 5-3 on penalties to Sporting CP at the Emirates. A 2-2 first leg gave way to a 1-1 second. The teams could not be separated over 210 minutes of play that scarcely dropped in quality. Ultimately the fine margins of a single missed penalty sends the Portuguese side through and the English one spiraling out.
Arsenal’s night started ominously, with Takehiro Tomiyasu picking up an early knock and having to be replaced by Ben White. Manager Mikel Arteta was left facing more defensive woes in the opening 20 minutes when William Saliba pulled up. Rob Holding was substituted on in his place.
Sporting looked the livelier in the early going. Ex-Wolverhampton Wanderers loanee Francisco Trincao ghosted in from the right wing and whipped a shot just wide of the post. Manuel Ugarte was also key, providing the heartbeat and tempo with which the Portuguese side dominated.
Arsenal did spark into life as the half wore on. Reiss Nelson’s curled cross found Gabriel Jesus in acres of space. His finish was okay but Antonio Adan’s point-blank save was superior. The Gunners did fire themselves into the lead soon after though.
Jorginho was the catalyst for the opener, splitting the Sporting backline with a visionary hit out to Gabriel Martinelli on the left wing. The forward gave Adan too much of his shot, but the rebound fell to a rampaging Granit Xhaka. Arguably the most improved player in this season’s Arsenal set-up, the midfielder leathered the ball home to settle what had been a nervy start.
After a pair of forced changes, Arteta made a voluntary switch at half time. Gabriel Jesus was protected, with January buy Leandro Trossard replacing the former Manchester City man. If the change was supposed to introduce fresh impetus though, it didn’t quite work.
Sporting started the half brilliantly, with Ricardo Esgaio’s cross drawing a great save from Aaron Ramsdale. Paulinho was bravely denied by a Holding slide tackle moments later. Whatever head coach Rúben Amorim said to his charges at half time obviously had an effect.
Just after the hour mark, Sporting and Pedro Goncalves made an indelible impact on this round of 16 tie. Arsenal’s carelessness in midfield was punished, with the ex-Wolves man robbing a loose ball and floating in an utterly sublime strike from the centre circle. Ramsdale was nowhere to be seen. Sporting were back in the tie. It was a moment and a goal destined to transcend this game. Welcome to the history books, Pedro.
Paulinho nearly inflicted double trouble on the ailing Gunners, heading a corner over the bar just moments after the equaliser. Sensing the momentum slipping away, Arteta introduced Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka from the bench. Even with fresh legs on the field, the incessant roar of the travelling Sporting fans made this look a tall order for Arsenal.
Ramsdale may have been MIA for Goncalves’ stunner, but he heroically kept his side in the game a few minutes later. Marcus Edwards took delivery of a superb through-ball, firing it towards the Gunners’ goal. But Ramsdale reacted quickly, saving the powerful strike with his face. He would require medical attention for his exertions, which he made bravely and with little thought for his own safety.
In over 180 minutes of football, these two sides could not be separated. After contesting two normal-time draws, the Premier League leaders and the 19-time Portuguese champions.
Trincao’s carelessness saw White rob him of the ball. A through pass to Fabio Vieira was not good enough to unlock the Sporting door, though. Trossard nearly kicked that door off its hinges shortly afterwards, going one on one with Adan before the goalkeeper palmed it onto the post.
There was late drama as substitute Martin Odegaard and Gabril both went close with headers. Ugarte was then sent off for a second bookable defence. An excessive tackle on Saka saw the midfielder handed his marching orders. It was a frenetic finish to open play, with the final sequence of extra time providing everything but a goal.
With Sporting in a 4-3 lead in the shootout it was Martinelli who blinked first. Adan slapped away a left-centre drive from the young forward. The stage was set for Nuno Santos who won it for his side with a confident, powerful drive. It was a breathless end to a dramatic evening. Thunderous noise from the away end, pin-drop silence from the home supporters.
Arteta’s side will look to the league for solace. There is plenty to be found, with the North London side remaining on top of the pile for now. A European trophy has eluded this side for far too long. Tonight, Arsenal fans can draw comfort from the fact that the next time they contest continental silverware, it will likely be the Champions League.
Earlier in the day, Manchester United finished the job away to Real Betis in their Europa League last 16 tie. Marcus Rashford’s second half stunner capped a lowkey display. Erik ten Hag’s Red Devils were content to let their La Liga opposition do the running, with the away side carrying a 4-1 aggregate lead into the second leg. Facundo Pellistri made his first start for the club and looked vibrant, despite incurring perhaps the softest yellow card in recent memory.
*18+ | BeGambleAware | Odds Subject To Change