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  • Writer's pictureBy Yann Tear at Emirates Stadium

Arsenal left with only tired limbs and regrets as Europa League pursuit ends in penalties exit

Europa League Rd 16 second leg

Arsenal (1) 1 Xhaka 19

Sporting Club de Portugal (0) 1 Goncalves 62

After extra time - Aggregate 3-3: Sporting win 5-3 on pens

Where is the away goals rule when you need it most?

Under the old system Arsenal would have progressed with the 1-1 draw they finished with at the Emirates. The first leg in Portugal had ended 2-2. But not this year. It was merely a prelude to more penalty misery on the international stage.

The Gunners have lost two European finals that way. This time, poor Gabriel Martinelli was the one having his spot-kick saved as another door towards a possible trophy closed.

Arsenal will pray an exhausting night will not prove costly to their domestic ambitions, as they bowed out of the Europa League at the last-16 stage.

They lost two defenders early on and had to bring on first team regulars they hoped to rest as they chased the tie and several players received a fair few kicks from muscular opponents.

Crystal Palace will prove a tough physical examination for them now on Sunday.

With a first Premier League title since 2004 tantalisingly on the horizon, this might be a year when glory on the European stage matters less. But Arsenal did not play as if it did not matter to them.

Uefa's second-tier competition currently does not look like a mere consolation bauble for teams not strong enough to make the Champions League's business end. Just look at the quarter-final line-up ahead of today’s draw: Feyenoord, Juventus, Sevilla, Roma and Man united are all in the mix.

Pedigree chums as company for all the wannabe top dogs. Alas, Arsenal will not be among them.

The evening started brightly enough for them, with Granit Xhaka pouncing on a rebound to blast home the opener after Martinelli had been denied by inspired goalkeeper skipper Antonio Adan – who made a string of fine saves.

But in a moment that recalled David Seaman’s calamity at the hands of Nayim in Paris 28 years ago in another unhappy European final, Aaron Ramsdale was beaten from 46 yards by a brilliant Pedro Goncalves strike after Jorginho had run into a group of green and white hooped shirts to cough up possession in the centre circle.

That stunning effort galvanised the visitors and their noisy fans and only a brilliant save from Ramsdale denied former Spurs player Marcus Edwards another goal in a one v one.

MIkel Arteta fielded a strong line-up, but several first teamers were held back until a raft of substitutions were needed to regain control after Sporting had grabbed the momentum following the equaliser.

Leandro Trossard, Thomas Partey, Bukayao Saka and Martin Odegaard all came on to try and get the Gunners over the line. To no avail.

Gaby Jesus, who appeared for the first time this year as a sub at Fulham at the weekend, made a welcome first start and one weaving run into the area almost ended in a goal – Adan saving the Brazilian’s final effort.

He was withdrawn at the interval but showed some of the panache and dynamism that will surely come in handy in the final two months of the campaign.

But overall, this was not the happiest of nights, with early injuries to Takahiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba forcing the Gunners into two unwanted defensive substitutions.

Sporting have only ever lost once in a two-legged tie with English clubs and were determined and vibrant opponents from start to finish. They also showed muscle when needed.

This was Sporting’s second visit of the season to the capital. They drew 1-1 at Spurs in the Champions League group stages – having beaten them 2-0 at home – and their tidy football ensured parity in the first leg between the teams last week.

Drop-outs from the top Euro competition they may have been, but they showed more than a few glimpses of quality throughout a compelling tie. And they are hard to beat.

Arsenal did have chances to win it in extra-time. A loose backpass gave Trossard a clear run on goal, but veteran Spaniard Adan superbly deflected the Belgian’s shot against a post.

Adan also did well to keep out a Gabriel header from a floated Odegaard free-kick and from the resulting corner, another Gabriel header was cleared off the line.

In a frantic finale, Manuel Ugarte was sent off for a foul on Saka – his second yellow. But it came too late to help Arsenal’s cause.

Gunners: (4-4-2) Ramsdale – Tomiyasu (White 9), Saliba (Holding 21), Gabriel, Zinchenko – Nelson (Saka 65), Jorginho (Partey 65), Xhaka, Vieira (Odegaard 101) – Jesus (Trossard h/t), Martinelli

Sporting: (3-4-3) Aden – St Juste, Diomande, Inacio – Esgaio, Goncalves (Essugo 93), Ugarte, Reis (Santos 93) – Edwards (Tanlongo 119), Paulinho (Chermiti 90), Trincao (Gomes 105)


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