UEFA Europa League & Conference League Magazine - Episode 2Sep 29
All the talk at the club of late has been around the Premier League title race, but attention will now turn towards another potential route to silverware for the Gunners.
Here are three reasons to watch Sporting vs Arsenal on Thursday night, live on BT Sport.
Can Arsenal's fringe players take chance to shine?
Arsenal’s title challenge has been sustained by a consistent starting XI and Mikel Arteta, understandably, has been hesitant to disrupt that.
But the return of Thursday night football will mean there is a need for rotation, which will provide opportunities for some of the players on the periphery.
With a tricky league game at Fulham on the following Sunday, Arteta won’t want to risk all of his key players.
That should mean the likes of Fabio Vieira, Leandro Trossard and Jakub Kiwior could be involved from the start as Arsenal’s squad depth is tested.
Gunners fans will be excited to see some of their promising young players in action in Portugal, as well as those who have had limited game time because of the form of Arteta’s best XI.
It may well be that the Europa League gives Arteta an idea of which players could be valuable members of the squad for the Premier League title run-in.
Can Sporting beat another North London club?
Sporting won’t be overawed by the visit of Arsenal on Thursday night.
Two late goals at Estadio Jose Alvalade earned them a win over Tottenham in the group stages of the Champions League back in September, before a 1-1 draw in the reverse fixture a few weeks later.
That wasn’t enough for the Portuguese side to progress beyond the group stages, but had it been a knockout tie they would have been 3-1 aggregate winners.
Arsenal will know not to take Sporting lightly, then, particularly if they opt to rest several key players as many expect.
Still, the Gunners will be clear favourites against a side struggling for consistency domestically: Sporting are fourth in the Primeira Liga, 15 points behind leaders Benfica.
“Arsenal are out of this world, they are first in the Premier League, which in essence is the Super League everyone keeps talking about,” manager Rubon Amorim said.
“But is it impossible to win? I don’t think so and I want my players to believe it. It takes a lot of luck, but as we’ve been so unlucky this season it may be that luck is all saved for these games."
Will Bellerin come out on top against former club?
Many Arsenal fans will still have a soft spot for Hector Bellerin, even if the Spaniard didn’t quite live up to his potential at the Emirates.
After his short-lived stint at Barcelona, the right-back is now playing for Sporting and is set to face the Gunners for the first time since leaving the club.
The 27-year-old made the move to Portugal in January and has since made a handful of appearances, scoring in a recent 2-0 win over Estoril.
His return to the Emirates for the return leg will undoubtedly be an emotional one, but for now his focus will be on helping his team to victory in the first leg in Lisbon.
There will be no time for sentiment for Bellerin, who posted an Instagram story reacting to the last 16 draw when it was made. Clearly Arsenal are a club still close to his heart, but that will be forgotten when the game kicks off and a Europa League quarter-final is on the line.