Sporting stun Arsenal with epic performance in London

Arsenal 1-1 Sporting (agg. 3-3, Sporting win 5-3 on penalties)

Sporting tonight wrote a golden page in their history by knocking English Premier League leaders Arsenal out of the Europa League, going through on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time, and 3-3 aggregate score.

Sporting started confidently, but fell behind to a Granit Xhaka goal. The Portuguese team did not wilt though, more than matching Arsenal and drawing level through a sensational Pedro Gonçalves goal with a shot from near the halfway line (pictured). Marcus Edwards missed a great chance to win it in normal time, Aaron Ramsdale coming out on top in a one-on-one.

Only in extra time did Arsenal, having brought on their big guns, force Sporting into defence, with Adán making some brilliant saves, and the Spaniard was the hero in the penalty shootout, saving from Gabriel Martinelli, leaving Nuno Santos to score the winning spot kick and spark wild celebrations among the large contingent of travelling supporters. 

Sporting confident from the off

Despite Sporting’s much improved form of late, the feeling among the Sportinguistas was that their team’s big chance had been blown when Paulinho skied a shot when clean through that would have put the Green and Whites 3-1 up in the first leg in Lisbon last week, the game eventually ending 2-2.

Suspensions to captain Sebastián Coates and Hidemasa Morita forced Rúben Amorim into two changes in relation to the first leg, Ousmane Diomandé and Manuel Ugarte coming into the line-up.

Sporting started confidently, hogging possession and ensuring most of the play was in Arsenal’s defensive half of the pitch in the opening 20 minutes, albeit without creating any clear chances.

The good work was undone however, as Esgaio mistimed an attempted interception of a through ball to Martinelli leaving the Brazilian with a clear run on goal. António Adán saved his shot but the rebound fell to Xhaka who smashed a cross-shot into the net.

Arsenal were buoyed by the goal Gabriel Jesus and Martinelli causing panicky moments in the Sporting back line, but gradually the visitors again got a foothold in the match. A long clearance by Adán set Marcus Edwards driving towards goal, the Englishman seemingly through but Zinchenko recovered well to intercept his shot.

Jesus then showed neat footwork in the box, forcing a sharp save out of Adán. But Sporting refused to lie down, St. Juste going on an audacious run straight through the middle, but his shot was way over the bar.

Sporting step it up in the second half

If Sporting had shown courage in the first half, in the second they added composure and creativity, putting in a superb 45 minutes of football during which they were the superior team.

Ugarte and Pedro Gonçalves were winning the midfield battle, and the latter produced a moment of pure genius to get Sporting level. Picking up the ball on the halfway line, Pote took one look up, saw Ramsdale off his line and produced an astonishing shot that sailed over the furiously retreating goalkeeper and just under the bar. Cue the first moment of bedlam among the 3000 Sporting fans.

Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta had seen enough, bringing on international stars Thomas Partey and Bukayo Saka, but Sporting continued to play their football showing wonderful personality.

On 72 minutes the away team had a great chance to take the lead. Ricardo Esgaio cut infield and played a perfect diagonal ball into the path of Marcus Edwards who was clean through with just Ramsdale to beat. Edwards was unable to find a composed finish, going for power instead with the goalkeeper keeping it out with his face.

Amorim made his first substitution only in the 90th minute, Youssef Chermiti replacing Paulinho.

Arsenal turn the screw

Extra time was a different story, with the home team, roared on by the big crowd, at last starting to apply consistent pressure. A mistake by Sporting substitute Dário Essugo gave Leandro Trossard a clear run on goal, but Adán came up with a big save, getting a strong hand on the shot to push it against the post.

Arsenal were now pushing Sporting further and further back towards their own goal, especially after the introduction of star man Martin Odegaard.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and goalkeeper António Adán, who has endured a poor season with multiple mistakes, chose the right time to rediscover his very best form. The Spaniard saved brilliantly from Gabriel Magalhães twice in quick succession, and his hero status would be cemented in the shootout.

Ugarte wiped out Saka to pick up his second yellow card and subsequent red, but there was not enough time for Arsenal to take advantage, the referee blowing the final whistle shorty afterwards.

All of Sporting’s first four penalty takers, St. Juste, Esgaio, Inácio and Arthur Gomes found the net, and after Adán had thwarted Martinelli it was left for Nuno Santos, in keeping with Sporting’s overall display, to confidently dispatch the winning kick and seal victory.

Analysis: enjoy the moment... while we can 

Quite beyond the excellent scalp of knocking out the best team in England right now, it was the manner of the victory that makes it such a memorable night for Sporting fans.

Save the final 10 minutes, this was no backs-to-the-wall luck-laden triumph. A young Sporting team showed remarkable character all night long, never abdicating their natural passing game, taking risks, and refusing to be bullied by big-name players or an apparent gulf in class.

Rúben Amorim has already built himself a fine reputation in Europe, and this result will only add to the list of suitors from prestigious clubs eyeing up the Portuguese coach. The cohesiveness, calmness and skill of Sporting’s collective performance tonight speaks volumes of Amorim’s ability to formulate a game plan and get his players to carry it out.

Individually, several players also enhanced their reputation no end. Manuel Ugarte, despite his late red card, put in a monstrous shift, Gonçalo Inácio and St. Juste were rocks at the back and contributed generously going forward, teenager Diomandé belied his lack of elite-level experience by not putting a foot wrong, while Pedro Gonçalves, quite apart from his stupendous goal, will surely have come onto the radars of many a top team after his two performances against Arsenal this last week.

As ever, the joy of Sporting’s night will be somewhat tempered by the knowledge their top talents – on the pitch and in the dugout – are now a step closer to being poached. But for now, Sporting fans will bask in the glory of a European night that will be talked about for years to come.

By Tom Kundert


[1-0] Xhaka, 19'

[1-1] Pedro Gonçalves, 62'