Swissquote Match Analysis: Arsenal vs Sporting CP | UEFA Europa League

For the headline writers, Sporting CP had a number of obvious heroes after ousting Arsenal from the UEFA Europa League last week. The clear contenders were Pedro Gonçalves with his miracle goal, goalkeeper Antonio Adán with his decisive penalty shootout from Gabriel Martinelli and Nuno Santos, who scored the winner.

But in this tactical analysis from Swissquote, the UEFA Technical Observer Panel focuses on the finer tactical details of a strong performance from Sporting, whose efforts spanning 120 minutes in north London ultimately guaranteed a 5-3 penalty shootout victory that set the stage for a quarter-final against Juventus next month.

How it happened: Arsenal vs Sporting CP


Highlights: Arsenal 1-1 Sporting CP (3-5 on penalties)

1-0: Granit Xhaka (19)

A superb forward pass from Jorginho behind the full-back created a chance for Gabriel Martinelli, who came in from the left. Although Adán saved, Xhaka then drove the ball into the net with his left foot. It was the fifth goal of the season for a player who impressed the UEFA observer with his leadership and intelligent positioning and passing game.

1-1: Pedro Gonçalves (62)

Arsenal had not conceded a single goal at home before this season. This was no ordinary goal, however, as the midfielder defeated back-kicking Aaron Ramsdale with a great shot from just over the halfway line. “I saw that the goalkeeper went a bit off his line and everything went perfectly,” said the 24-year-old ‘Pote’ of his third goal in the knockout stages.

team building

The England team is set up in a flexible 1-4-3-3 and the formation chart above shows their attacking structure: a 1-3-2-2-3 with Oleksandr Zinchenko (35) coming from his position at left-back providing alongside Jorginho (20) for a second pivot that allows them to build with a 3+2.

Before them, Gabriel Jesus (9) would attempt to fall into space. Arsenal tried to position players between the lines and, once there, tried to create one-on-one scenarios in the wide areas for players like Martinelli (11) and later substitute Bukayo Saka.

When pressing high, Arsenal tried a man-to-man strategy. These included Zinchenko, who squeezed right full-back, and Reiss Nelson (24), who pursued left full-back; centrally Xhaka (34th) and Jorginho tried to put the Sporting double spinners under pressure.

Rúben Amorim’s side were set up to attack in a fluid 1-3-4-3 formation with plenty of side turns. As the match observer noted, Marcus Edwards (10) and Ricardo Esgaio (47) often swapped places, leaving Edwards on the outside and able to capitalize on one-on-one scenarios.

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The two central midfielders – Manuel Ugarte (15) and Pedro Gonçalves (28) – played on different lines at times, with the latter acting slightly higher and proving elusive, linking the game with short passes and skillful positioning. Behind them, Ugarte was aggressive, putting pressure on the Arsenal midfielders while dishing the ball out well.

Outside of possession, Sporting adopted a 1-5-4-1 formation and effectively closed the gaps. They looked for opportunities to apply pressure and – as explained in the features section below – there were moments in the game when they quickly went from low block to high pressure and brought their back line onto the field.

Finally, a word on goalkeeper Adán (1), who made seven saves – the highest number of points in last week’s Europa League games. This included his save in extra time to slam an attempt from Leandro Trossard against the post after the Belgian broke through.


Summarizing Sporting’s success, the match observer pointed out several key tactical traits, starting with their fluency in central combinations and good movements and rotations in the wide areas. There was also praise for their aforementioned ability to switch from high pressure to low pressure and vice versa.

However, the first feature highlighted in the video analysis above concerns their high defensive line and Arsenal’s efforts to get behind. This is the focus of clips 1 and 2, each showing a Jorginho pass from behind a defense located 27.5m and 38.4m above the pitch, respectively. For Sporting, that high line was a calculated risk against players with the pace of runners like Martinelli and Saka – indeed, the second example leads to breakthrough.

The video analysis then focuses on Sporting’s clever build-up play, which features good passing opportunities and intelligent movements and rotations to fuel their attacks.

In Clip 3 we see them build up against Arsenal’s back three with a back three plus midfield spin Ugarte. Sporting excelled at creating overloads to ensure those in possession had passing opportunities. For example, here we see Ugarte telling full-back Esgaio exactly where to make himself available on the right.

Granit Xhaka after scoring Arsenal's opener

Granit Xhaka after scoring Arsenal’s openerArsenal FC via Getty Images

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As the sequence unfolds, we then see them push the ball through the first two Arsenal units, creating a six-on-six play in the attacking third, with numbers flooding forward. Right winger Edwards lands typically fluidly in the center forward position on the ball in the penalty area.

This confirms the observations of the match observer, who remarked: “Arsenal pressed early but were played through a number of times as their players struggled with Sporting’s movements, combinations and technical skills.”

Clip 4 provides another example of the Portuguese’s impressive positional manipulation. The sequence begins with them building up with a 2+2, with Ousmane Diomande entering a pivot position alongside Ugarte. The sight of Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta signaling from his technical area suggests an uncertainty within Arsenal’s ranks, with Gabriel Jesus seemingly unsure of where to position himself.

The unfolding action is another example of their rotation play, with Edwards falling back into his half and Esgaio going inside trying to free a teammate behind.

Clip 5 begins with Diomande stepping out of the back three again and Arsenal players pressing again but being outplayed by a Sporting overload (6v4). The visitors then advance, right winger Francisco Trincão comes in from the left and Edwards enters, and Trincão curls a shot just wide of the far post.

In Clip 6 we see Sporting build from a dead ball and again there’s that fluidity as Edwards and Trincão come inside and full-back Esgaio drives the ball in before supplying Edwards with a superb opportunity.

Marcus Edwards was given credit "his ability to dribble and connect the game"

Marcus Edwards was recognized for “his ability to dribble and connect the game”.Getty Images

Arguably the most vivid example of Sporting using great moves to progress through Arsenal is Clip 7, which really demonstrates their superb technical execution.

With a skillful (and brave) combination they get the ball in the middle and with Edwards coming in from the right to carry the ball forward it ends in a three-on-three in the final third. Nine seconds passed between centre-back Gonçalo Inácio’s pass and Edwards’ attempt to play Paulinho.

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“Their performance was brave as they brought the game to Arsenal and imposed themselves on the game,” said the Observer, who also highlighted Edwards’ efforts, citing his ability to dribble and connect the game.

The Englishman, once a Tottenham Hotspur player, ended the game with eight transfers from ten yards or more – a total surpassed only by Arsenal’s Zinchenko on Thursday. From a team perspective, Sporting’s sharper passing game meant a higher passing rate in the last period than Arsenal – 85.9% versus 79.5% for the hosts.

The final feature of the video analysis (clips 8 and 9) is Sporting’s fabulous off-ball work. In deep defense, they got all ten fielders behind the ball in a 1-5-4-1 form. Still, they were quick to apply pressure and able to switch from low block to high pressure.

Clip 8 shows them doing this in less than 20 seconds in a sequence that ends with them blocking Arsenal’s options and forcing Ramsdale to step out of the game. “They defended well in most parts of the game, cutting the lines and closing the spaces,” said the Observer.

It’s worth noting how important it is to be able to make such a switch to relieve the last line of defense. Likewise, no team can press high for 90 minutes and Clip 9 shows the reverse process: from a high pressing with seven players, Sporting can quickly compact eight players in a low block.

    Ruben Amorim addresses his players ahead of extra time

Ruben Amorim addresses his players ahead of extra timeUEFA via Getty Images

Coaches’ assessments

Mikel Arteta, Arsenal manager: “It was a completely different game than the first leg. They’re really good at attacking spaces and running to the second line. We didn’t put enough pressure on the ball. I do not want to play.”

Rúben Amorim, sports coach: “It wasn’t the kind of game where the big team controls the game all the time and has a lot of possession. We had possession in the second half, we were very strong and had some chances to win the game, so I think it was a great performance from our players.

“The result is the only thing that matters, but you have to applaud how my players played – how they got up after conceding the first goal that we didn’t deserve.”

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