In-form Arse­nal face Sport­ing Lis­bon, eye knock­out spot

The Gun­ners are top of Group E hav­ing won all three of their matches so far

Gulf Times Sport - - FOOTBALL -

Unai Emery’s Arse­nal head into to­day’s clash with Sport­ing Lis­bon at the Emi­rates bid­ding for a place in the Europa League knock­out stage, buoyed by an im­pres­sive dis­play in their draw against Pre­mier League ti­tle hope­fuls Liver­pool. The Gun­ners are top of Group E hav­ing won all three of their matches so far, and have looked re­vi­talised in the early stages of the post-Arsene Wenger era. A se­cond straight vic­tory over Por­tuguese giants Sport­ing would ex­tend their un­beaten run to 15 matches in all com­pe­ti­tions.

Back-to-back de­feats by Manch­ester City and Chelsea at the start of the cam­paign had left some on­look­ers ques­tion­ing whether Arse­nal could com­pete with stronger op­po­si­tion, but close-sea­son sign­ing Bernd Leno said Satur­day’s per­for­mance had proved a point. “I think we saw that we can play our way against big teams,” the Ger­man goal­keeper told the club’s web­site. “We con­trolled Liver­pool. We played out from the back. It was not just lucky or lucky things to cre­ate from. We played the ball with passes from be­hind and that’s the way we want to play.”

The 2006 Cham­pi­ons League run­ners-up failed to qual­ify for Europe’s top com­pe­ti­tion in each of Wenger’s last two sea­sons at the helm, but are now in con­tention to end that run on two fronts. Leno thinks that Emery’s in­flu­ence has been key to chang­ing the mood around the Emi­rates Sta­dium.

“The coach gives us a lot of con­fi­dence to play like this,” he added.

“I can’t com­pare it be­cause last year I was not here but I think (Emery) changed some things — of course, the way we play from be­hind but also to play very aggressive, the de­fence is get­ting bet­ter, con­trolled. “Tac­ti­cally, it is one step bet­ter than at the be­gin­ning of the sea­son be­cause it needs time and it also needs time now in the next weeks. If we work like this and play like this, we could have a great sea­son.”

Chelsea will also book a ticket for the last 32 with vic­tory over BATE Borisov in Be­larus, after see­ing Al­varo Mo­rata make it five goals in six games in their win over Crys­tal Palace at the week­end. Mau­r­izio Sarri’s side are un­beaten since a 2-0 Com­mu­nity Shield loss to Man City in Au­gust, and have scored 18 goals over their last six out­ings.

They top Group L with nine points and will qual­ify for the last 32 with a win. “I have started scor­ing again for two weeks and now I am happy, the team plays good and I don’t need to think about scor­ing more goals than other play­ers,” Mo­rata told Chelsea’s web­site, after break­ing a ter­ri­ble run of form that saw him net just four times in his pre­vi­ous 31 matches. Else­where on Thurs­day, record five-time win­ners Sevilla travel to Turk­ish side Akhisar Gen­clik Spor look­ing to strengthen their grip on top spot of Group J, while Gen­naro Gat­tuso’s AC Mi­lan travel to Spain hop­ing to avenge their de­feat by Real Betis two weeks ago.

FIXTURES (ALL TIMES GMT)

Group A: Bayer Lev­erkusen (GER) v Zurich (SUI) (2000); Lu­do­gorets Raz­grad (BUL) v AEK Lar­naca (CYP) (2000)

Group B: Rosen­borg (NOR) v Salzburg (AUT) (2000); Celtic (SCO) v RB Leipzig (GER) (2000)

Group C: Bordeaux (FRA) v Zenit St Peters­burg (RUS) (2000); Slavia Prague (CZE) v FC Copen­hagen (DEN) (2000) Group D: Di­namo Za­greb (CRO) v Tr­nava (SVK) (2000); Fener­bahce (TUR) v An­der­lecht (BEL) (1550)

Group E: Arse­nal (ENG) v Sport­ing Lis­bon (POR) (2000); Vorskla Poltava (UKR) v Qarabag (AZE) (2000)

Group F: Real Betis (ESP) v AC Mi­lan (ITA) (2000); Olympiakos (GRE) v Dude­lange (LUX) (2000)

Group G: Rapid Vi­enna (AUT) v Vil­lar­real (ESP) (1755); Spar­tak Moscow (RUS) v Rangers (SCO) (1755)

Group H: Apol­lon Li­mas­sol (CYP) v Ein­tra­cht Frank­furt (GER) (1755); Lazio (ITA) v Mar­seille (FRA) (1755)

Group I: Genk (BEL) v Be­sik­tas (TUR) (1755); Malmo (SWE) v Sarps­borg (NOR) (1755)

Group J: Akhisar Gen­clik Spor (TUR) v Sevilla (ESP) (1755); Krasnodar (RUS) v Stan­dard Liege (BEL) (1755)

Group K: FC As­tana (KAZ) v Jablonec (CZE) (1550); Dy­namo Kiev (UKR) v Rennes (FRA) (1755)

Group L: BATE Borisov (BLR) v Chelsea (ENG) (1755); Vidi (HUN) v PAOK (GRE) (1755)

(Reuters)

Arse­nal play­ers (from left) Alexan­dre La­cazette, Sead Ko­lasinac, Shko­dran Mustafi and Hec­tor Bel­lerin share a light mo­ment dur­ing train­ing yes­ter­day.

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