Arsenal crash out of Europa League
Arsenal crashed out of the Europa League at the hands of Sporting CP on penalties on Thursday night after a marathon last 16 second leg at the Emirates Stadium.
Granit Xhaka had given the Gunners a first half lead, before an absolute wonder goal from Pedro Goncalves deservingly brought Sporting back into it in the second 45. There was nothing to separate the side through extra-time, but Antonio Adan emerged the hero for the Portuguese side in the penalty shootout, saving from Gabriel Martinelli – Sporting won it 5-3.
It was clear that, after the 2-2 draw in the first leg, Sporting fancied their chances and started on the front foot. Throughout the early stages they took up good positions without finding the right final ball to make it count. Around 15 minutes in, Trincao didn’t miss by much when he cut in from the right and lashed a fierce left-footed shot towards the far bottom corner.
After that wake up call, Arsenal began to come alive a little more. Gabriel Jesus, starting his first club game since early November, went close when he connected with Reiss Nelson’s cross into the six-yard box –Adan dived to his right and was equal to it.
Adan made another top save not long after, blocking Martinelli’s low shot as the Brazilian went through one-on-one. But as the ball rebounded, Xhaka was there to follow it up and confidently swept it home to put his team ahead.
As Arsenal pushed for a second, Adan made more saves, denying Martinelli and Jesus from similar positions on the left. Sporting also continued to attack in a breathless period of action and the pace of ex-Tottenham player Marcus Edwards proved a threat as it had done in Portugal last week.
Jerry St. Juste and Manuel Ugarte both had shots from distance before half-time. The former coming after a driving run through the heart of the Arsenal but blazing well over, and the latter getting much with his powerful strike that was deflected wide.
The Gunners didn’t make a good start to the second half. Sloppiness was creeping into their game and the ball was being lost cheaply – it was that which led to Goncalves’ equaliser, although it took the audacity of the quality to actually turn it into a goal in the way the Sporting star did.
Barely inside the Arsenal half, Goncalves caught just enough of Aaron Ramsdale off his line and struck the ball so sweetly, dipping and swerving over the backpedalling Arsenal goalkeeper, practically silencing a stunned Emirates crowd in disbelief at what they had just seen.
Sporting’s tails were up and Ramsdale managed to get his face – anything counts – in the way of a close-range shot from Edwards to stop Sporting getting ahead. But a slightly frenzied end to the 90 minutes didn’t see one or the other take the lead, and so extra-time ensued.
The visitors nearly shot themselves in the foot in the additional period when a slack backwards pass put Leandro Trossard through on goal. Adan stayed big and managed to deflect the Belgian’s attempted finish onto the post, agonisingly so for Arsenal fans.
With fatigue seemingly setting in, Sporting lost a bit of shape in extra-time and the Gunners probed more. Rob Holding thought he should have done better with a header from almost on the goal-line. There was also more than one occasion in extra-time when Arsenal were guilty of over-playing it.
Gabriel thought he had won it for Arsenal at the death with a bullet header. But Adan, as he had been for nearly two hours of action by that point, was equal to it and parried away, while there was still time for Ugarte to get himself sent off for poleaxing Bukayo Saka before the shootout.
Sporting CP: St. Juste (scored), Esgaio (scored), Inacio (scored), Arthur (scored), Santos (scored)
Arsenal: Odegaard (scored), Saka (scored), Trossard (scored), Martinelli (missed)