Arsenal were frustrated in their efforts to win this game by a stout Sporting display, but it was enough to earn a spot in the knockout stages of the Europa League.
Unai Emery selected a fair amount of youngsters for this game, as progress to the knockout stages was almost assured before kickoff. Emile Smith-Rowe got another start in our attack, Matteo Guendouzi was in midfield alongside Aaron Ramsey, and Carl Jenkinson got another rare start, at left-back.
It was an eleven that was more than good enough for the win, and yet rested so many regulars. It showed that Emery has a squad to cope on both fronts this season, but this game was a real test.
We dominated possession, which was in the script, and Sporting seemed happy to soak up pressure early on. Smith Rowe and Mkhitaryan were the early outlets, but the crucial final passes were lacking.
The best opening fell to us in the 17th minute, but Guendouzi’s cross was deflected past Ribeiro in the Sporting goal, but cleared off the line by Coates.
We were slightly unlucky, but our luck was set to get much worse minutes later.
Welbeck went for a header and his stretch looked a painful one, with his ankle contorted. the England striker required oxygen and a stretcher before being replaced, and all fans will be waiting with baited breath to hear the prognosis.
He was replaced by Aubameyang and it was at this point that Lichtsteiner and Jenkinson started to come into the game more. their runs were causing problems and the game was being stretched because of their actions. We were sniffing around for a goal, and only a terrible tackle from Gaspar stopped Iwobi in his tracks as we counter-attacked in a promising position.
We went into the break goalless, but showing enough to cause optimism for the second half. There were no changes at half time, and we continued where we left off in the first half, with Lichtsteiner and Jenkinson in some promising positions.
Sporting then sent a reminder that they could cause an upset if given a chance, but Nani’s effort was saved by Petr Cech. Kolasinac then came on for our unconventional left-back Jenkinson, and it was good to see the Bosnian returning from injury.
We were huffing and puffing but Sporting were getting men behind the ball and defending well. We needed a little nous, but while Mkhitaryan and Iwobi weren’t having a bad game, they weren’t at their best either.
On the 74th minute, Lichtsteiner pulled up while attempting a cross, looking to all concerned like a muscle pull. He was replaced by another returning from injury, Ainsley Maitland-Niles. We weren’t finished though, and the lively Iwobi controlled well to send in Mkhitaryan, but the Armenian’s effort was saved by Ribeiro. Less than ten minutes to go, and it was still 909.
We were poised to qualify even if we drew the game, but a win is always far more desirable, Kolasinac set up Auba for a chance, but a last minute deflection saw the ball squirm wide. Inches.
On the 87th minute, Mathieu had no choice but to take down Auba, who was running clear. It was a clear red - but the chance was gone.
The match petered out, and the game ended goalless, but it was enough to see us through to the next stage. We haven’t tied up top spot yet, but another win should do it.
So, no goals, two injuries, but we are through. A mixed bag, but onwards and upwards.
Wolves next up!