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In-form Arsenal eyeing Europa League knockout spot

London, Wednesday

Unai Emery’s Arsenal head into Thursday’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. “I think he (Emery) has changed some things, of course, the way we play from behind but also to play very aggressive,” he added.             

Chelsea will also book a ticket for the last 32 with a 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. -AFP

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