Arsenal begin their Europa League knockout stage campaign on Thursday, travelling to Lisbon for what could be a challenging game against a side whose fourth-place standing in the Liga Portugal belies the threat they could pose to the Gunners. Ruben Amorim’s side have already stunned one half of north London, taking four points from their two Champions League group stage meetings with Tottenham, and won in style away to Midtjylland to book their spot in the last 16.
Mikel Arteta’s side won five of their six group stage games before Christmas to secure top spot in their Europa League group ahead of PSV Eindhoven. As the Premier League leaders, they will be many people’s favorites to win this competition outright but will their manager be tempted to weaken his side, focusing resources on the domestic battle with Manchester City? Here is how you can watch the match and what you need to know:
Sporting: While there will naturally be much focus on Arsenal’s domestic priorities, Amorim cannot afford to take his eye off the ball in league play either with Sporting facing an almighty struggle to qualify for next season’s Champions League through a top-three finish in the Liga. A slow start to the season means that despite winning six of their last seven there is still a five-point gap to be made up to Braga in third ahead of a clash with Boavista at the weekend.
Sporting have never so much as scored in their four previous meetings with Arsenal but they will at least have insider knowledge this time around in the form of Hector Bellerin, the former Gunners right back who is certain to get a warm welcome at the Emirates Stadium next week.
Arsenal: The return of Gabriel Jesus to full training on Wednesday was a welcome one for Arteta, who will surely not gamble with the fitness of his star forward. There are significant headaches in attack for Arsenal, whose late 3-2 win over Bournemouth on Saturday came at the cost of Leandro Trossard, who suffered a groin injury chasing back in the first half. Eddie Nketiah’s ankle injury is significant enough to have required him to wear a protective boot, meaning Gabriel Martinelli could start up front for the Gunners.
Matt Turner is among the fringe players who could feature on Thursday and it seems likely that Thomas Partey will be rested but Arteta is not one to rotate his side en masse. Granit Xhaka, rested for Saturday’s Premier League win, could be given a starting berth while Jakub Kiwior, signed from Spezia in January, is in line to make his debut.
This could prove to be quite the banana skin for Arsenal, for whom it would be understandable if focus were to drift to Sunday’s trip to Fulham. PICK: Sporting 2, Arsenal 1
Stafford’s career prospects have changed in a hurry. A prized acquisition for Sean McVay and the Rams ahead of the 2021 season, he arrived from the Lions as part of a blockbuster trade package including two first-round draft picks. He threw a career-high 41 touchdowns while guiding L.A. to a Super Bowl LVI victory. But injuries wrecked his offensive line, his supporting cast — and then his own health — throughout 2022, in which he played just nine games and downplayed speculation of an early retirement.