Arsenal’s moment scares any rival and, with a dozen days to finish the English championship, the “gunners” They are in pole position to win the Premier League, a feat they haven’t achieved in almost 20 years. However, the “mere” five points ahead of the Londoners over Manchester City at home could condition Mikel Arteta’s strategy for this afternoon’s game (17:45, SIC), in Alvalade, of the first leg of the round of 16 of the Europa League. Sporting, on the other hand, with the number one objective (championship) mortgaged, can dedicate more attention to the European duel, but the absence of Ugarte will be a difficult problem to solve for Rúben Amorim.
With the two teams going through a positive phase – four consecutive victories for both – Sporting and Arsenal start this Thursday afternoon fighting for their presence in the Europa League quarter-finals with different levels of priorities for the competition.
Out of the fight for the national title, the “lions” favoritism on the opponent’s side, but, in the preview of the duel with the leader of the Premier League, Amorim admitted that “by eliminating a team like Arsenal anything is possible” for Sporting in the proof.
The coach said he had “a plan”, which involves “winning, knowing the differences between the two teams”. Ensuring he had an “enthusiastic” squad, Amorim underlined that in “two games anything is possible”, but warned of the London club’s mentality:
“We know Arsenal’s spirit, they are very hungry to win. We have to go in concentrated.”
Without Ugarte, who is suspended, the coach ruled out the possibility of putting Diomandé next to Morita in the center of the field – “It was a wrong sign for the team, putting a centre-back playing in that position” -, and, without disclosing what his tactical option will be, he made it clear between the lines that Tanlongo will not yet be prepared to be in the starting line-up, which will imply, without risks for the team, the retreat of Pedro Gonçalves on the field: “Defending is subjective, Tanlongo is not physically very strong and comes from a championship with a different intensity. We looked at everything and chose the best ‘eleven’.”
On possible savings for Londoners thinking about derby of the weekend for the Premier League against Marco Silva’s Fulham, Amorim considers that “the dynamic” of Arsenal “doesn’t change much”. “It’s a team with a very big routine, they’ve been playing for a long time. We made this observation. They are never a weak team, they are always a strong team. They rotate to have fresh players. They have a championship in which the rotation is very intense. We will have to be smarter in that regard and expect a strong Arsenal.”
Tactical issues aside, although Amorim said three weeks ago that “not even winning the Europa League will save what” the “lions” did in the championship, winning the second biggest competition organized by UEFA would result in a real jackpot for leonine SAD.
Sporting secured 35.135 million euros for its participation in the group stage of the Champions League and, by overcoming the Danish side of Midtjylland in the play off access to the knockout stage of the Europa League, has already raised over 1.7 million.
At stake are another 13.2 million euros – the “lions” will only add that amount to the amount already guaranteed if they win the competition -, but the conquest of a second European trophy by Sporting immediately guaranteed the balm that the accounts Sporting fans need peace of mind to plan the next season: the winner of the Europa League automatically enters the group stage of the Champions League with top seed status.