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Arsenal should keep it clean against Sporting

Europa League
BT Sport 2, 8pm Thursday


Arsenal have momentarily lost the winning knack in the Premier League but they are cruising in the Europa League after three successive victories and can maintain their 100 per cent group record by beating Sporting at the Emirates.

It is highly likely that both teams will qualify for the knockout stages - Sporting have six points at the halfway mark - and Arsenal could wrap up top spot if they win and third-placed Vorskla Poltava fail to triumph at home to Qarabag.

Unai Emery's plan was to secure qualification as soon as possible and he has consistently selected strong and experienced teams.

However, given the improving health of Arsenal's squad – Sead Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Petr Cech have all recently recovered from injuries – there will be scope to make a few changes and still field a skillful and organised side.

Since early losses to Manchester City and Chelsea, Arsenal have gone 14 matches unbeaten and they are growing in confidence.

It took a 78th-minute Danny Welbeck goal to clinch a 1-0 victory in Lisbon a fortnight ago but the victory was deserved.

Sporting put a big effort into the game, matching the Gunners for an hour, but they could not sustain the tempo and were on the ropes before Welbeck landed the decisive blow.

Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno did not have a save to make and their defence should be just as comfortable this time.

The Londoners have kept successive clean sheets in the Europa League and defended well for the majority of Saturday's 1-1 league draw at home to Liverpool.

Achieving more shutouts will be crucial to finishing in the top four and going deep in one of the cup competitions because there are plenty of goals in the side.

Big-money buys Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette have led the way with goal tallies of nine and six and Welbeck is Arsenal's top scorer in the cups with four in five appearances.

Even with changes to the Arsenal side, Sporting are in for a tough night and will probably spend most of the game on the back foot.

Their powers of resistance are weakened with regular right-back Stefan Ristovski and holding midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia ruled out by injuries.

Offensively, they are boosted by the recent return from injury of towering striker Bas Dost, the second-highest scorer in last season's Portuguese top flight with 27 goals in 30 games.

But Dost needs a few games to get fully fit and is unlikely to seriously trouble the Gunners, who are worth backing to win the match and keep a third successive Europa League clean sheet.

Recommendation
Arsenal win to nil

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Match in Focus

19:45 TODAY SKY

Ireland v N Ireland

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Ireland have two clean sheets in nine home games
Expert verdict
This will be a friendly in name only and looks set to conjure up goals in the first Irish derby since 2011. Both sides are out of form and bottom of their Nations League groups but will be motivated to perform under the lights of the Aviva Stadium. The return of Kyle Lafferty should be a big boost for the visitors.