Sporting vs Arsenal Preview: Group E table-toppers face off in Lisbon
Photo: Getty Images - Marc Atkins

Sporting vs Arsenal Preview: Group E table-toppers face off in Lisbon

In-form Arsenal face toughest group stage fixture after breezing past Vorskla and Qarabag

David Comerford

Unai Emery's sizzling Arsenal could close in on a club record by beating Sporting Lisbon at the Estadio Jose Alvalade on Thursday evening.

The Gunners made it ten triumphs on the bounce when they overwhelmed Leicester on Monday and are now four victories away from matching their best-ever winning streak, recorded back in 1987.

Sporting, though, represent a significant obstacle, having matched Arsenal's record of two wins from two to kick off Group E.

The 'Verde e brancos' followed up a routine 2-0 win at home to Qarabag in September with a more hard-fought 2-1 victory at Vorskla earlier this month. It was their third consecutive win in Europe, a feat they had not previously achieved since 2011. 

Following a turbulent summer which saw a whole host of key players force a way out following a training ground attack by hooligans, they have started the domestic season in reasonably solid fashion, winning four and drawing one of their first seven league games.

Arsenal have never beaten a Portuguese side away from home (D3 L3), but they know a win on Thursday would all but seal a place in the last 32, with two home games still to come. 

Team news

Emery has taken the opportunity to significantly rotate his starting sides in this competition and he may well stick with that policy ahead of a trip to Crystal Palace on Sunday which completes a somewhat gruelling week.

The Spaniard has stuck with a broadly similar defensive line across the first two group games but made changes in attack, opting for a front line of Emile-Smith Rowe, Danny Welbeck and Alex Iwobi last time out against Qarabag.

Smith-Rowe and Welbeck could both be in line for another start, though Iwobi, who played the full 90 minutes against Leicester, may drop out for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang after his scintillating two-goal cameo. Aaron Ramsey could also return to the starting line-up. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan is back in contention after missing the trip to Qarabag amid tensions between Azerbaijan and his native Armenia.

Arsenal have a clean bill of health in midfield, but Emery is likely to continue with Mohamed Elneny and Matteo Guendouzi and rest Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira for the weekend.

Petr Cech is almost ready for a return to action, but Bernd Leno is set to keep his place between the sticks for this one. With Laurent Koscielny and Konstantinatos Mavropanos still out and Sokratis short of match-fitness, Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi are both set to start.

Both Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac are nursing hamstring injuries, so it remains to be seen who will start at left-back. Stephan Lichtsteiner should line up on the right after being withdrawn on the hour against Leicester.

There are few fitness concerns for Sporting after the prolific Bas Dost and central defender Jeremy Mathieu, formerly of Barcelona, returned to training.

This game should still come too soon for Dost, so 31-year-old Colombian Freddy Montero is still expected to lead the line.

However, only one player - exciting young winger Raphinia - has been forced to sit out preparations.

The players to watch on Sporting's side are ex-Man United winger Nani, who captains the team and has been involved in eight goals in nine games this season, and the impressive attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes, who has 11 caps for Portugal.

Predicted line-ups:

Sporting: Salin; Gaspar, Coates, Mathieu, Jefferson; Nani, Fernandes, Gudelj, Acuna, Mane; Montero

Arsenal: Leno; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Holding, Monreal; Guendouzi, Elneny; Smith-Rowe, Ramsey, Aubameyang; Welbeck