4.5 - Shots allowed per match by Sporting in the Europa League (2nd in the League)
Not only have they allowed a mere 9 total shots in the Europa League this year but their keeper has only made two saves and they have conceded just the one goal. Their defensive record looks Looks impressive on first glance but then they have only played two matches, so we have to turn to their domestic stats.
In the Primeira Liga they allow 10.7 shots per game, 3rd best.
18.5 - Tackles per game by Lisbon in the Europa League
They mostly achieve these low shots stats by being a strong possession-based side and through aggressive tackling. Sporting are top 10 in tackles in the Europa League with 18.5 and are 4th in the Portuguese League with.. 18.5. They are also super efficient in tackling and have the 2nd lowest "was dribbled" rate in the EL with just 3 per game and a slightly worst rate in the PL with 4.7. Lisbon are 86% tacklers in the Europa League and 80% domestically.
Their top tacklers in the EL this season are Acuna and Raphinha, both of whom play on the left. They average 7.5 tackles per game together and haven't let a single player slip by with a dribble yet. Sporting also tackled high up the pitch with their attacking and central mids. Acuna and Coates are their only two defenders putting in tackles. The forwards and attacking mids are expected to pressure the ball and get "stuck in". That could mean a lot of pressure on Arsenal's back line and especially Hector Bellerin, who I suspect will be targeted by Lisbon's manager to keep him hemmed in as he (Hector) has been such an influential player for Arsenal this season.
Arsenal average 10 tackles per match in the Europa League and 5.5 "was dribbled." In the Premier League, Arsenal have a similar problem in that they only win 16.3 tackles per match and are dribbled past 7.9 time per game. Arsenal are 65% tacklers in the Europa League and 67% domestically.
Granit is Arsenal's most dribbled past player in the Premier League, averaging 1.4 per game all by himself (when he doesn't foul the player instead). In the Europa League, it's Kolasinac, he's been dribbled past 3 times in just one 90 minute appearance. Guendouzi averages 1 "was dribbled" per game in the Europa League and 0.6 per game in the Premier League. Torreira averages 0.5 per game in the Europa League and 0.6 per game in the Premier League.
12 - Dribbles per match by Arsenal in the Europa League
These one-on-one duels (tackles and dribbles) are going to be important today. In the Premier League, Arsenal aren't really known for their take-ons (dribbles) and are right in mid-table with about 12.4 attempts per match (6.8 successful). But because they play a younger, more adventurous side, and because of the opposition that Arsenal have faces, their dribble numbers in the Europa League are way up: Arsenal have won 12/18 dribbles per match this season.
You can already guess that Iwobi tops Arsenal's chart with 3.5/5.5 per match in the Europa League but the prodigious Emile Smith-Rowe is 2nd at the club with 2 per match.
For Lisbon, the Nanny is their top dribbler and like Fran Drescher is probably excited to make himself an annoying part of this match. But Arsenal can't let Nanny be the focus. Raphinha is a great dribbler in his own right and also averages 0.5 assists per match this season, along with Nanny.
14.5 - Fouls per match by Sporting in Europa League play this season
One final duel that could be a bit ugly is the fact that Sporting love a good foul. They lead their domestic league with 3 yellow cards per match and their matches typically average over 32 fouls per contest. Arsenal matches in the Premier League are similarly hotly contested affairs and combined (fouled and fouling) Arsenal lead the League with 24 per match.
Acuna is again listed as one of their top players in the "fouler" category with 2.5 per game. And with all of the other things he does (he's also influential in key passes, dribbles, tackles, etc) don't be surprised to hear his name called 100 times today.
And you already can guess that Nanny is a player most foul. Or most fouled. One of those two. Expect him to do his junior birdman impression and fly to the ground every time an Arsenal player gets near him.
One place that Arsenal (and Iwobi) need to be smart about is attacking Sebastian Coates (if he plays). He's got quite the penchant for fouling and Sporting's weakness domestically is giving away penalties, they lead the Primeira Liga in penalties conceded with 3.
Sporting are also weak on set play defense. Arsenal should look to exploit their fouling nature to create set piece chances for their big center backs.
Keys to the game
- Break the Sporting press with smooth passing and teamwork
- Attack at pace, dribble at Coates in and around the box
- Be ready for a lot of tackles and rotational fouling (see point one)
- Watch out for diving Nani
- Help Bellerin down the right (one way to do this is shift play to the left)
- Take our chances