Sporting Preview: Avoiding The Fall From High Horses

Sporting Clube de Portugal pitch up at the Emirates tonight in what is a potentially decisive fixture. If Arsenal win, the Round of Sixteen beckons because the two teams who can catch us face each other on 13th December. Win and Vorskla lose, and we confirm first place thanks to the head-to-head results between ourselves and Sporting. Quite a bit riding on this one then.

Unai spoke to the media yesterday and divination by press conference puts Shkodran Mustafi in the starting line-up. Not Nacho though; Emery told the assembled hacks that while Monreal “is starting to train”, he is “not with us…and for tomorrow he isn’t in the group.” Sead Kolasinac it is. Two down, nine to go.

The objective is to win, with Unai pointing out that “It’s one way [to win] a title and get into the Champions League next year”. It’s almost become the club hymn to the point where you expect “Good Old Arsenal” to be binned and replaced by the Dynamic Duo rapping “We Must Get to The Champions League Next Year”.

Who the Dynamic Duo at the heart of the defence is interesting. Shkodran Mustafi hinted that Rob Holding is likely to start. Then again, nobody asked a question about any other central defenders but that’s because the mic was ripped from their hands before they could push the point. It isn’t just political journalists who are pushy, eh?

I’ll take a punt here; Holding won’t be included in Gareth Southgate’s England squad. Which he should be, of course, based on current form. Harry Maguire is out and I’d strongly argue that Holding is a lot better than Lewis Dunk of Brighton. His one failing is that he isn’t a meathead like Maguire which was Southgate’s preferred style in the summer.

Look, Know

Mustafi claimed: “It’s always important when you play in central defence that you know what your partner next to you know is doing.” A candid interview with his defensive partners at the club would probably reveal they don’t have a scooby what the German is up to half the time.

Holding’s development this season, in a team unlearning bad habits at the same time it is learning new (hopefully good) ones is impressive and merits recognition at a higher level. It feels like it may be some way off as he contends as much with Arsenal’s flagging reputation as the perception of his own inexperience.

Ahead of the back four, the question for Emery is whether to rest Granit Xhaka? He did in the first two group games but brought him in for the first leg. Mateo Guendouzi has enjoyed a rest since being dismissed against Blackpool so is likely to replace one of the Torreira/Xhaka axis. Ainsley Maitland-Niles surely gets his chance as well, giving us a very young defensive pairing. Capable but young.

Emil Smith Rowe didn’t travel to Forest Green last night – well done on reaching the last 32 of that tournament – and it would be good to see him get a full ninety minutes. However, Unai Emery showed for the match in Lisbon that he is not taking Sporting lightly and not too many youngsters will get a chance from kick-off.

I’d expect the line-up to be something like:

Cech; Lichtsteiner, Mustafi, Holding, Kolasinac; Guendouzi, Maitland-Niles; Ramsey, Smith Rowe, Iwobi; Welbeck

City Hobgoblins

“All that I know most surely about morality and obligations, I owe to football “

Albert Camus’ quote took on new meaning last night. After the stories in Der Speigel, it had to be Manchester City who found themselves mired in controversy. Raheem Sterling kicked the ground, hit the deck and found he’d been awarded a penalty. In fairness to him, had he been booked for diving, his sense of injustice would burn as deeply as Shakhtar’s.

Football’s Corinthian spirit surfaced with questions asked of Sterling. Why not ask the referee to change his mind? There was a brief mention of Robbie Fowler’s ‘honesty’ at Highbury back in the day. No mention that Fowler cheated to win the spot kick in the first place. Sterling didn’t; he just fell over. Comically so.

The England man didn’t, presumably for fear of a rollicking from Pep. I don’t know how I would feel if an Arsenal player ‘fessed up. I think I’d admire the honesty, particularly in the cut-throat world of professional football. However, in my flexible morality the circumstances would dictate reactions.

Vaguely related to Sterling, the media claim Rooney isn’t wearing the #10 shirt because Raheem’s feelings might be hurt. The farce took an awkward turn when it emerged that this isn’t the FA’s idea but a brainwave from his agent.

We know something is rotten at the heart of football but an agent persuading a national association to ‘honour’ a player? Come on; he didn’t cover himself in glory at any international tournament and never won a trophy with his country. Do me a favour.

His charity isn’t getting a share of the gate receipts but they will be shaking buckets in the faces of fans who’ve been ripped off over tickets, programmes and just about everything else.

Some farewell.

It’s The New Thing

While I’m still on my high horse, the lunacy of football hipsters scaled new heights. It’s been irritating to hear Профессиональный футбольный клуб ЦСКА Москва referred to as “Seska”. ‘CSKA’ is an acronym of “Central Sport Club of the Army”, and this is pronounced C-S-K-A. CSKA prefix themselves “PFC” – Professional Football Club, so it would be nice if we could be a bit professional ourselves instead of bloody hipsters.

Anyway, last night we had “Ike” Athens losing in Munich. Which was news to AEK Athens who were supposed to be playing there. Goodness knows where they ended up. This has to stop now. It’s not hip, it’s not clever and it is bloody irritating.

Thank god no-one is telling me we’re playing Sporting Lisbon.

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

62 thoughts on “Sporting Preview: Avoiding The Fall From High Horses

  1. Last time I was in Lisbon I visited the Sporting stadium and it was in Lisbon, so Sporting Lisbon is geographically accurate.

    Like Glasgow Rangers / Celtic.

    Or London Arsenal…

  2. To his credit Sterling put his hands up for his trip & stumble (and that’s exactly what it was).
    I remember that Fowler incident 21 years ago well (it was live on TV), with him falling over Seaman, innocently leaping up & saying ‘no penalty David’, knocking the resulting spot kick to Seaman only for McAteer to steer the rebound in; and he subsequently received some awards for his good sportsmanship, but I often wonder if he’d have had such altruistic intent had he not just a few minutes previously witnessed Dennis Bergkamp being booked for diving (ironically following a Fowler challenge).
    Nah! I’m sure it was genuine (rolling eyes smiley).

  3. I think that is the line-up too but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Mhkitaryan get the nod too, would be good to let him run free and hopefully build his confidence.

  4. Afternoon YW,
    So I’m not the only one who rolls his eyes, when the TV commentators and pundits start re-branding teams for no reason whatsoever. My bug bear is Payock Salonika?! Who the f*** is PAYOCK Salonika? I have no link to them, don’t support them and frankly couldn’t give a monkeys about them. But haven’t they been known as P.A.O.K Salonika for quite some time. The P.A.O.K. actually being an acronym?

    Anyway, thank you for letting me get that off my chest before we watch Arsenal versus Sporting Clube de Portugal….. or should that be The Delaware London Red Gunners versus Lisbon Green Lions Sporty FC?

  5. Cech

    Subs::: Martinez, Mustafi, Sead, Maitland-Niles, Nketiah, Torriera, Aubameyang

  6. From

    1 Čech (GK)(C)
    5 Papastathopoulos
    7 Mkhitaryan
    8 Ramsey
    12 Lichtsteiner
    16 Holding
    17 Iwobi
    23 Welbeck
    25 Jenkinson
    29 Guendouzi
    55 Smith Rowe

    26 Martínez (GK)
    11 Torreira
    14 Aubameyang
    15 Maitland-Niles
    20 Mustafi
    31 Kolašinac
    49 Nketiah

  7. C,

    I’m not getting at your spelling C, tho I’m clearly pissed that you beat me to the post… 😬
    But Sockeritis sounds like a nasty case of mumps to me.

  8. The more I watch Iwobi the more I have realized that there may be few in the PL with his combination of power, pace, quick feet amd close control.

  9. He developed his step over, to add to his dummy steps , then he will be a force to be feared.
    Ronald’s stopovers last night were pretty immense. Manure got sooo lucky. But they’ve still got Mourinho. So not That lucky.

  10. Jenks and Lichsteiner both off to a sharp start. We’re clearly up for this and have brought our pressing game. No slow start this time. But we must e careful – Sporting can hurt us on the counter.

  11. There is something about Smith-Rowe that reminds me of Bergkamp. The way he moves? His build? Something.

  12. Quite distressing to watch Guendouzi’s pained expression as he watches Danny being prepped for carrying off. And Ramsey – recalling his own trauma?

  13. Leg break. Why do we get so many nasty ones.

    A real shame. Never been a fan of his but he has played so well this season.

  14. consolsbob,

    It is a shame for Welbeck because under Emery he has found really good form and settled into that CF3 role perfectly.

    Hope he isn’t out long, especially with his contract up in the summer.

    Agree about Smith-Rowe and it make you think that surely Emery, Mislintat and Sanllehi looked at him and said ‘Right, no need to overpay Ramsey when this kid is developing and looks absolute quality!’

  15. Poor ol Danny
    Bad luck
    Thought maybe a broken clavicle but yeah perhaps a broken leg on landing
    He really busted a guy to get on end of that cross. Brave

    Speaking of crosses…awful delivery so far. Jenks and Leech I can understand but Myki not quite nailing it…yet

  16. Noon Gunner,

    Was just coming on to say how much I rate him. He’s, what, 19? He makes a few positional mistakes but he’ll sort that out. He’s had some hospital balls tonight and he manages in tight spaces, reads the game superbly, gets about and wants to be involved. His passing to break lines is already incredible.

    I’d put him on a very long contract tomorrow

  17. The press tonight has collectively been excellent. It’s starting to look instinctive and various people are starting to play with it to catch Sporting players out

  18. Damon,

    Just think, we have Guendouzi, Torriera, Smith-Rowe, Iwobi, Nelson, Holding, Bellerin, Maitland-Niles who are all 23 or younger who have shown brightly and all look players.

  19. Iwobi does seem to have them back peddling whenever he gets it on the left. Needs to start shooting again. Attacks the edge of the box like Mersin used to .

  20. Mickey-Targaerian has shown glimpses of being able to run this game. Just needs to pick it up a notch

    Set pieces have been awful. Not a fan of short corners. Stick it in the box. Thought their lot looked lacking a bit of height when we lined up for the first half and we haven’t tested them

  21. C:

    Just think, we have Guendouzi, Torriera, Smith-Rowe, Iwobi, Nelson, Holding, Bellerin, Maitland-Niles who are all 23 or younger who have shown brightly and all look players.


  22. I’m just loving our collective desire to win the ball back as soon as we lose it in midfield. Am I right in thinking we seem to be 5-10% fitter than last year?

  23. If Iwobi can find some shooting boots we’ve got a real player on our hands. He looks to have bit of meat on his bones since last year (?) and I like that. Wouldn’t mind him becoming a bit of a unit

  24. We’re through our ten minute turbo-boosted burst after half time and Sporting’s organisation at the back is good enough again. We own most of the pitch, just not the few yards that matter.

  25. It’s become a test to find something different to break down an organised unit. Like the natural left footer come on at full back. Thought Jenka did an okay job

  26. I like the positions and movement of PEA when we don’t have the ball. Somewhat abstract which will catch defenders out from time to time

  27. Noon Gunner,

    I am not sure anybody knows his best position
    Wales let him free #10 but he is just not a playmaker at EPL level – not many are and we have Ozil.

    He does score great and important goals though but not really a disciplined CM

    Will be interesting where he goes and how they play him.

    As a super sub I hope he finishes with a flourish and fitting finale for us!

  28. We’ve been doing so many of the right things, but Sporting’s CB pairing have been so solid and their overall defensive shape has been solid.

  29. Qualified. Odds on to top the group

    Enough said

    But disappointing we kept trying to go through wide areas when Welbeck went off and no Lacazette available. The service didn’t suit the front men on the pitch

    Smith Rowe went very peripheral

  30. Noon Gunner,

    Quite right. Sporting didn’t park the ‘bus because their splendidly drilled defence didn’t need to.
    We just failed to break ’em down. It’s just a learning curve for what was a team not that used to playing together. 😉

  31. What I have found most interesting is that so far in these matches it feels like some of the more experienced players are waiting for the more youthful players to make something happen…….

  32. nicky,

    Really? I think that was about as close to parking the bus as you get. They had 29% of possession and didn’t hit the target once with any of their 5 speculative shots.

    Having watched the game, it became apparent they were going to sit deep and concede possession and territory until their final third of the field.

    What would you define as “parking the bus” if not that?

  33. C:
    What I have found most interesting is that so far in these matches it feels like some of the more experienced players are waiting for the more youthful players to make something happen…….

    What I noticed last night C,was that although it was our ‘second string’ -they played just like the first choice team would have.Its been drilled into them in such a short space of time by Emery that that’s what they must do.When a player gets subbed,the difference is immediate.Our passing has become crisper than I can recall for a very long time,and our squad is fitter.

Comments are closed.