Arsenal couldn't handle Europa League squad rotation. Now they're free to focus on Premier League

Should Ten Hag have rested his Man Utd stars vs. Real Betis? (1:36)

Janusz Michallik defends Erik ten Hag for sticking with a strong lineup in Manchester United's win over Real Betis. (1:36)

LONDON -- Arsenal crashed out of the Europa League at the last-16 stage on penalties as Sporting CP won a shootout at Emirates Stadium on Thursday to put the Portuguese side through to the quarterfinals.

With the tie finely poised at 2-2 from the first leg, Granit Xhaka put the home side ahead on the night after 19 minutes with a low drive. But Pedro Goncalves scored a stunning equaliser on 62 minutes, arrowing a shot over Gunners goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale from just inside the Arsenal half. Sporting's Manuel Ugarte was sent off two minutes from the end after receiving a second yellow card for a late tackle on Bukayo Saka.

In extra-time, Gabriel had a 117th-minte header superbly saved by goalkeeper Antonio Adan before he was denied again from the resulting corner, this time by Ousmane Diomande, who cleared his effort off the line.

The sides could not be separated in 120 minutes, and after the first seven penalties were scored, Arsenal forward Gabriel Martinelli had his spot kick saved by Adan, which gave Nuno Santos the chance to send Sporting into their first quarterfinal in a European competition since 2018.

Rapid reaction

1. Arsenal left with only the Premier League race

When the dust settles on this agonising defeat, Arsenal will look to turn their European exit into something of a positive given they now only have one competition -- the Premier League, the most important one -- left to fight for.

They have been at their strongest when manager Mikel Arteta has been able to name a settled side and, if anything, perhaps this unexpectedly early Europa League exit is the biggest indication of that. Arteta made six changes for the first leg, five again here, and on both occasions they were disjointed and some way short of their fluid best.

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Sporting Lisbon deserved to take this the distance and, in truth, Arsenal were a little fortunate to drag it into extra-time. With that, the Gunners can now concentrate on naming their best starting line-up for their 11 upcoming Premier League matches, knowing 10 victories will hand them their first title since 2004.

That said, losing to Sporting is nevertheless a significant setback given one of the remaining unknowns this season is whether this young Arsenal group can hold their nerve under the most acute pressure -- and they failed to do so here. That will only ask further questions as to whether they can handle the rarefied atmosphere of a title race and with Crystal Palace visiting Emirates Stadium on Sunday, Arteta doesn't have long to rally the troops.

2. It never rains but it pours as Arsenal injuries a worry

The sight of both Takehiro Tomiyasu and, particularly, William Saliba limping off inside the first 21 minutes is an obvious cause for concern.

Arteta was critical of his side's defending in the first leg and they looked shaky here with Ben White brought on right-back to replace Tomiyasu and Rob Holding partnering Gabriel Magalhaes at the back.

On top of that, Gabriel went down with an injury early in the second period but lasted the full 120 minutes. Leandro Trossard was seen limping towards the end while Oleksandr Zinchenko was repeatedly holding his hamstring in the latter stages.

Each player will be assessed in the coming days, but the turnaround to facing Crystal Palace is quick. Gabriel Jesus' first start since knee surgery was a positive, registering six touches in the opposition box and two shots on target, but it was cut short as he was withdrawn at half-time as an apparent precaution. Arsenal, after all, had been forced into two changes and only had one more window in the second half in which to make another alteration due to rules around substitutions.

It is easy to assume that given Arsenal's fight for the Premier League title, win or lose on Thursday the last thing Arteta wanted was extra-time. Some fans were really put through it more than others -- during the second half, two leaks in the stadium roof meant supporters in the affected areas were forced to disperse and protect themselves from the downpour. Call it symbolism if you like.

3. Penalty shootout makes history at Emirates Stadium

Emirates Stadium opened in 2006, and this was the first competitive penalty shootout ever staged here.

In fact, this was Arsenal's first shootout anywhere in European competition since 2009 against Roma -- although Sporting have had to wait longer with their last European penalty shootout coming, remarkably, in 1989.

Of course, this was not the slice of history that Arsenal wanted, and Martinelli will take it particularly hard given he was the only player to miss in the shootout.

The Brazilian endured a slight dip in form several weeks ago before recovering his best level in recent weeks, but his shootout-deciding miss is a fresh setback he must now overcome. Having been left out of Brazil's latest squad, he will likely want another chance against Palace otherwise a fortnight stewing on his mistake lies in wait.

Best and worst performers

Best: Pedro Goncalves, Sporting CP

Nobody has scored a goal from further out in any of UEFA's competitions this season.

Best: Marcus Edwards, Sporting CP

Regularly caused Arsenal problems cutting in off the right on his left foot, although he missed a glorious chance to send Sporting through in normal time.

Best: Granit Xhaka, Arsenal

Scored his first goal since October and made more ball recoveries (11) than any other Arsenal player.

Worst: Reiss Nelson, Arsenal

Another missed opportunity after a disappointing first leg. Was largely ineffective here aside from one dangerous cross and substituted for Saka on 65 minutes.

Worst: Fabio Vieira, Arsenal

Chose the wrong option in the final third on more than one occasion, prompting groans among the home crowd. Won one of his 11 duels.

Worst: Rob Holding, Arsenal

Unable to replicate Saliba's assured presence, although in fairness he has only played one regular minute of football since Jan. 27 and was thrown in unexpectedly here due to the Frenchman's injury.

Highlights and notable moments

Arsenal came into Thursday's Europa League second leg feeling like they were in a good position -- level on goals with Sporting CP after the first leg in Portugal and playing at home, Arsenal wer ethe clear favourites.

But the thing about being the favourite is you still need to score the goals and get the result, and Granit Xhaka wasted no time getting the Gunners out ahead early with his 19th-minute strike.

Arsenal seemed to be cruising, but then Pedro Goncalves seemingly pulled a rabbit out of a hat and made something out of nothing.

After intercepting the ball in the midfield, Goncalves picked his head up to notice Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale off his line, and so he struck, scoring a sensational goal from near the halfway line.

Sporting Lisbon nearly scored again less than 10 minutes later, with an excellent chance inside the box for Marcus Edwards.

But Ramsdale came up huge to keep the score level.

As the match moved into extra time, it was the goalkeeper on the other end of the pitch who got into the action.

As Leandro Trossard got in behind Sporting's back line in the 97th minute, goalkeeper Antonio Adan came up with a massive save to maintain the deadlock.

After the match: What the managers and players said

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta on being knocked out of the Europa League: "The disappointment is not going to go away it's there now. But there's also a clarity. It's 11 games to go now and we have a final against Crystal Palace. We have to recover and put all the focus there and win."

Arteta on his side's performance: "We didn't win enough duels in certain spaces. We didn't put the ball under pressure well enough. We gave the ball away consistently and it created a really open game we didn't want to play."

Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard on the Europa League exit: "We have to remember it's been a great season. It's a big blow to go out of this competition but now we look forward to the league, that's all we can do now. We win and lose together. When we're winning everyone is happy, when we lose we have to pick up the spirit."

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • By advancing past Arsenal, Sporting CP reach their first quarterfinals in European competition since the 2017-18 Europa League quarterfinals (which they lost to Atlético Madrid).

  • Pedro "Pote" Gonçalves' goal scored from 49.3 yards out is the longest distance on any goal scored in all UEFA competitions this season.

  • This is Arsenal's 59th match in the Europa League since 2017-18. It is only their second to go to extra time over that span. The previous instance came on Feb. 27, 2020 in a 2-1 loss to Olympiakos.

Up next

Arsenal: The Gunners turn their focus back to the Premier League, hosting Crystal Palace on Sunday, March 19 at 10 a.m. ET.

Sporting CP: Leões continue in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, hosting Santa Clara on Sunday, April 2. They will pick up with the Europa League in the quarterfinals in April.