Feed on
LONDON, ENGLAND – AUGUST 02: (L-R) Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Hector Bellerin celebrate after the FA Community Shield match between Chelsea and Arsenal at Wembley Stadium on August 2, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

If, dear reader, you were to point out with your customary patience that the premise of a protean identity is paradoxical, I will not entirely disagree. To your surprise, I may even go further to suggest that the notion of identity itself, in an ever-changing world, may be inherently protean – “an architecture suspended over the abyss of its own contingency”, to quote Marcus Steinweg’s insight about the world at large.

Take Lisbon for example: from the Westernmost trading post of the seafaring Phoenicians, through the settlement of Olissipo in Roman Lusitania, the socio-culturally diverse and architecturally influential Islamic middle ages, the Reconquista, the golden age of discovery and expansion including Vasco da Gama’s history-defining voyage to India, the colony in Brazil, the catastrophic earthquake in the eighteenth century (that even more than three hundred years after Voltaire still retains its persuasive power against the fallacies of thoughtless optimism), a twentieth century dominated by political upheavals … Lisbon, or Lisboa, has been an elusive shapeshifter, where the familiar serves to amplify the unknowable.

However, we are here not to taste such ontological pretzels, but to participate collectively in the more wholesome festivities of joyous anticipation: a high-flying, euphoria-inducing, expectations-defying, running-out-of-superlative-ly marvelous Arsenal team will be resuming their European campaign this Thursday, away at Lisbon, protean or not.

Our Europa League round of 16 opponent is “Sporting Clube de Portugal”, or as it is better known to us in the English-speaking world, Sporting Lisbon. Along with Porto, and their Lisbon derby rival Benfica, Sporting is one of Portugal’s big three teams, winning the Portuguese premier league last in 2020-21 season (albeit after a 19 year gap). Sporting doesn’t quite enjoy the history or glamor of Benfica, the most successful Portuguese club, both domestically and in European competitions. Their record suffers also in comparison with Porto, and this season they aren’t doing particularly well domestically, sitting fourth on the league table, 15 points behind league leaders Benfica. Their route to the Europa league R16 has been circuitous as well – failing to progress out of their CL group after finishing behind Eintracht Frankfurt and some English club, then winning the play-off against the Danish side Midtjylland. However, they do have a good record in the UEFA Cup/Europa League competition history, where their record of matches played and won are just behind that of Inter Milan. And their only European trophy came in a previous incarnation of this competition – the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 63/64.

Arsenal and Sporting had faced each other only twice before: in 69/70 Fairs Cup Arsenal drawing 0-0 away at Lisbon before winning 3-0 at Highbury, and more recently in the Unai Emery honeymoon period of the Autumn of 2018 where we won away 1-0, thanks to Danny Welbeck, at Lisbon before drawing 0-0 at home on our way to the Europa final (sorry if that brings back traumatic memories).

But that Arsenal and this Arsenal – while unquestionably being the same club – cannot be any more different than Ricardo Reis and Álvaro De Campos, or Ricardo Reis and Alberto Caeiro, or Alberto Caeiro and Álvaro De Campos … as the great Lisbonian Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, they are completely different poets but inhabiting the same imagination.

Or, speaking of Lisbonians – unlike the doppelgänger protagonists in José Saramago’s “The Double”, who, after being thrilled to discover their identicality decide to experiment with swapping their lives, only to realize the fluidity of what they thought to be their own immutable identities, that Arsenal and this Arsenal are likely not to be mistaken for one another by their lovers, somewhat distant (us then) or unguardedly ardent (us now).

The challenge for this Arsenal on Thursday would be to preserve the intensity of approach and the coolness of execution from their league performances, not the least because of the necessary rotations in the starting eleven. There are two schools of thought about the Europa league team compositions: one recommends that we rest as many first eleven players as possible without losing tactical coherence and keep our focus on the league, the other disagrees with such drastic changes and prefers to point out that the continuity of performance and result has a self-perpetuating force of its own that carries over from competition to competition, matchday to matchday. I find it quite natural to agree with both. Fortunately, the choice of the squad and the team are at the hands of a man much more decisive than me, and he also knows these players better than probably even they would ever know themselves.

Mikel’s hands might be a little forced though because all our three main central striker options are nursing injuries of various degrees. If Eddie had regained fitness he was definitely going to start this match, with Martinelli and Saka most likely starting on the bench, and some combination of Nelson/ESR/Vieira/Trossard on the wings. But now it seems at least one of Martinelli or Saka may have to start, unless Mikel feels comfortable playing ESR – himself just returning back from a long injury forced absence – centrally in the front three.

My predicted starting line-up would be:


Tomiyasu – Holding – Gabriel – Tierney


Vieira – Xhaka

Nelson – Martinelli – ESR

We might see our new Polish defender Jakub Kiwior coming on for Gabriel later in the second half, especially if we have the match under control. The bench will also include Saka, Zinchenko, Partey, White, Saliba, Ødegaard and a few of the academy players. Enough firepower in that bench to provide inspiration or assurance late in the match, whichever is needed.

Sporting Lisbon coach Rúben Amorim has started to make a name for himself, especially after guiding Sporting to their first league title in 2021 after 19 years. Their recent form this season may have not been very good but they are still a strong side, especially at home, and led by the tough and streetwise Uruguayan defender Sebastian Coates. If you are interested, this is a thorough analysis of Amorim’s tactical approach: https://www.coachesvoice.com/cv/ruben-amorim-sporting-lisbon-tactics/

The opposition of course now includes the familiar figure of Héctor Bellerín, the Catalonian with a Cockney accent, the Barcelona-born Arsenal favorite, a very good full-back at his best who was part of three FA Cup winning Arsenal sides, loved and admired for his contribution to football but also to the wider society, a passionate, articulate, inspirational young man. Héctor has a personal and emotional connection to Real Betis, a team he had also played for, so the green-and-white kind of suits him. We wish him all the very best in his time at Lisbon, and I won’t at all mind if he even rolls back the years a bit against his former teammates (including Arteta in that list).      

I expect this to be a difficult match where we will not find it easy to establish control or rhythm. But I believe we have enough discipline to stay in the game and as it progresses the necessary cutting edge to outscore the opponent. A 2-1 victory would set us up nicely for the return leg back at the electric Emirates, and I would be happy with any win.

Come on Arsenal!

36 Drinks to “A Protean Identity”

  1. 1
    OsakaMatt says:

    Thanks Dr F, a finely written piece as always. Sporting seem to be 4th in a 3 horse race this season and I hope whoever we put our will be good enough to get us some kind of positive result. Your team selection looks close too, if Eddie is definitely out then it’s about the best we can do.

  2. 2
    BtM says:

    Excellent preview, Dr F. I suspect Mikel will not make as many changes for Thursday as you have though.

  3. 3
    North Bank Ned says:

    A tour de force, Dr F. You weave so easily among those Europeans who themselves weave between philosophy and the arts.

    Thanks, too, for the link to the analysis of Amorim’s tactics. Having read it, I don’t think Arteta will play Jorginho as a single pivot. It seems that the key to negating Sporting is to prevent it from overloading in midfield.

  4. 4
    TTG says:

    Enjoyable piece Dr.F. Thankyou .
    Tierney hasn’t travelled to Lisbon so we will probably have to play Kiwior at LB with Gabriel and Holding at CB . He’s under the weather apparently.
    I was at the 3-0 victory in 1969. They couldn’t handle Radford and George Graham in the air. The Thursday game is not a priority but it woukd be nice t9 win or at least take a draw back to London .
    Edwards is their big star and played very well for Guimares on Scruz’s debut at THOF in 2019 . We should have enough to get a decent result even with a heavily rotated team

  5. 5
    Ollie says:

    Splendid and enlightening preview, Doctor. I think the return of European football increases my anxiety. Not about that cup in itself but about the implications for the League in terms of fatigue and injury.
    Have no idea what to expect. A nervous 2-1 could be it.

  6. 6
    bathgooner says:

    Thanks for the entertaining intellectual gymnastics, Dr F, more familiar to the readers of Private Eye than to those who trawl Arsenal blog offerings, a fine potted history of Lisbon and Sporting CP and the link to an excellent analysis of the playing style adopted by their impressive coach. Sporting’s current league position suggests that they are not achieving the standards they set last season – have they been sussed domestically or lost key players through transfer or injury?

    Clearly in the absence of Tierney, it’s possible that we will see Benjamin White at RB and Tomi shifted to the LB slot unless MA8 decides Zinchenko’s peripatetic role in recent matches hasn’t earned him a rest of at least 45 minutes on the bench. I agree that Jorginho will almost certainly replace Partey and Xhaka will start alongside him. Vieira may well replace Ødegaard (who put so much effort into the Bournemouth game) though in the absence of our three first choice centre forwards he may be our best option as a ‘false nine’. I agree that it’s likely that Martinelli will feature there. However I don’t think Nelson and ESR will both start as neither is ‘match-fit’ but one may replace the other at 45 or 60 minutes. Yet I’m struggling to think who else will play wide as Saka clearly needs to put his feet up! Perhaps it’s time to surprise us with another precocious talent from Hale End or to revert to Gorgeous George’s tactic of adding an extra centre half to his midfield.

    I agree with Blogs’ observation this morning that in our present circumstances the Fulham game is far more important than this one and I hope MA8’s selection will reflect that. I’ll be content with a draw given our injury problems up front though I’d clearly prefer a win.


  7. 7
    bt8 says:

    That’s quite a few heteronyms for one preview, Faustus. Even more heteronyms than we have Gabriels, which is so many I’ve nearly lost track. Your preview is excellent reading, by the way. Now I have to finish the part after the heteronyms. 😅

  8. 8
    bt8 says:

    And an excellent remainder of the preview too. I do hope our reunion with Hector is a pleasant one. Good to see Santi’s face too. I imagine that if Amorim’s team knocks us out that would send him to the front of the line to replace Potter at the Chavs. But Super Mik has something up his sleeve this time too, I suspect. Now to catch up on my Pessoa and Samarago.

  9. 9
    North Bank Ned says:

    According to the Poetry Foundation, Pessoa created at least 72 heteronyms, which seems to be taking his concept of identity beyond flexibility to perpetual fluidity. It also says the poet died of cirrhosis of the liver, although I would have thought confusion a more likely cause.

  10. 10
    TTG says:

    Where else could you get this sort of content. Some of these blogs are about football and nowt else. We get heteronyms but also a bit of geography, Portuguese football history and tactics. The manager is apparently very cute tactically .
    Re who could play wide or upfront we loaned out Marquinhos, John- Jules, Biereth, Moller and of course Balogun . The double barrelled striker ( Butler- Odejiye?) who did so well in the Papa Johns is also out on loan and Tavares who could play wide is at Marseille . Flores is at Oviedo and Cozier- Duberry is sadly gone in the fetlock .
    Amazing that on the staff we have about ten players who we might have at least on the bench tomorrow. I think we will definitely see Kiwior and I suspect he is a very exciting prospect .

  11. 11
    bt8 says:

    Q.: Who’s got the cutest arses in the business?

    A.: It is not Liverpool women.


  12. 12
    bt8 says:

    Latest: Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool – Blackstenius opens scoring before Foord heads in second

  13. 13
    bt8 says:

    S***s last trophy hope is gone for the season, guaranteeing that the Holic clock will hit 63 years since Spurs last won a trophy big club my arse in about 13 months’ time. 🤣🤣🤣🤣

  14. 14
    bt8 says:

    Reactions by S***s fans on BBC:

    You have to look at this season as a failure now, even if we make the top four. When you consider where us and arsenal were at the end of last season and compare the impact of the signings. Theirs have been good – they’re top of the league. All of ours have flopped – we’re stagnant

    If ever you want to understand the current mindset of a fan base, it’s that reaction to when 6 minutes were held up on the board. At Anfield, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, you’d have heard a deafeningly encouraging roar. Spurs fans just had an accepting silence. from Chris
    If ever you want to understand the current mindset of a fan base, it’s that reaction to when 6 minutes were held up on the board. At Anfield, Emirates, Stamford Bridge, you’d have heard a deafeningly encouraging roar. Spurs fans just had an accepting silence.

    That’s enough of that for me. Conte-ball is the most atrocious brand of football I have seen in 33 years. We still lose when we shouldn’t, we just play uglier football. Conte doesn’t want to be there, and I don’t want to watch his team. Here it comes #conteout from Callum
    That’s enough of that for me. Conte-ball is the most atrocious brand of football I have seen in 33 years. We still lose when we shouldn’t, we just play uglier football. Conte doesn’t want to be there, and I don’t want to watch his team. Here it comes #conteout


  15. 15
    North Bank Ned says:

    And I doubt Kane or Conti will still be there to see it, bt8.

  16. 16
    TTG says:

    Looking on the bright side for the Spuds they can get that go-kart track built earlier and with no expensive away trios left they can afford the Beyoncé tickets .
    That was an awful, gutless performance. I almost started feeling sorry for Harry Kane

  17. 17
    bt8 says:

    This reminds me a bit of Arsenal circa 7 or 8 years ago:

    Former Tottenham striker Peter Crouch on BT Sport: “What is the point of getting top four if you’re going to perform like this in the Champions League? I get there are financial aspects to it.

    “The fans would like to see an FA Cup or a Carabao Cup win – a trophy. It’s been so long. So to play a weakened team in the FA Cup – and the reason you rest the players is for the Premier League game – and you then lose that, then you’re out of the Champions League.

    “You’re going for top four, but what for? They haven’t performed in any game I’ve seen here in the Champions League.”

  18. 18
    Doctor Faustus says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.

    Ned@9 : and some of these heteronyms used to converse with each other on the newspaper pages in the letters to editor. 🙂 Pessoa’s prose is wonderful too … “The Book of Disquiet” has a Cioran like self-effacing brilliance. He was also an expert in English, part of his childhood was spent in Durban and after returning back to Lisbon he started his literary life by translating great English romantics into Portuguese. Saramago paid a wonderful homage to Pessoa in his novel “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” where he imagines Pessoa’s heteronym to return from Brazil to Lisbon in his final year and finding both love and solitude. I love the city, especially in the evenings when it sometimes reminds me of some passage or other from that novel.

    Back to football — I am starting to see things more like Matt and just hoping to have as many players fit as possible in the league matches. I also agree with TTG that we might see Kiwior tomorrow. He was playing regularly in Serie A and was playing very well.

    Come on Arsenal!

  19. 19
    OsakaMatt says:

    Vieira has a sore throat now it seems, but we will not know who is available until later.

    MA is either keeping his cards close to his chest or he’s lost track or who’s fit and who’s not
    🙂 I trust it’s the former.

  20. 20
    Sancho Panza says:

    We will also need to watch out for Ex Spud u don’t like Marcus Edwards. He’s actually quite good.

  21. 21
    Noosa Gooner says:

    Thanks Doc
    2-0 to the Arse allowing us to rest a few more for the second leg.

  22. 22
    TTG says:

    I sense there is quite a divide on how strong a team to play tonight .
    I am very much in the camp of not playing anyone ( if we can help it ) who might play at Fulham . Fulham aren’t playing this week. They will have a huge advantage if eight or so of Sunday’s team start tonight . The amount a game at this level takes out of you physically without taking into account the travel aspect would hugely impair our chances of taking three points at the Cottage .
    I set out this season wanting to and expecting that we would win the EL but the agenda has to have changed . Losing to Brighton in the Carabao helped us and while I hope we can continue in the EL it has to be with a largely shadow side .
    I would only start tonight Gabriel or Saliba or White ( one of the three ) , Xhaka because of his resilience and reluctantly Martinelli. To think there were concerns about signing a third striker this season when ideally we need a fourth ! Saka must be rested and Jesus only played for a short period. Hopefully Vieira and ESR can play significant roles and Reiss can continue where he left off so spectacularly!
    We have a second chance at home on Thursday if we can keep it tight tonight !

  23. 23
    Bathgooner says:

    I agree 100%, TTG @22 but suspect MA8 does not.

  24. 24
    OsakaMatt says:

    We will have 4 games in 11 days and then the interlull, I guess MA will look at the four games as a whole and conclude there is more chance of resting in the Palace game or SL 2nd leg. I would prioritize Fulham myself but as Bath said I don’t think MA will see it the same way.

  25. 25
    Las says:

    Dear Doc, thanks for this amusing and entertaining preview. Receiving art and philosophy lessons was the last thing I thought I would get when I arrived here to this blog. Hats off! Excellent, fuckin excellent. Thank you!
    Luckily, MA8 will decide because I can’t. On the one hand, I would go for the EL choosing a solid team but I so bloody want to win the League… and winning is always better. But we know too well that tiredness and injury can kill our hope. So I don’t know.
    I would rest Saka, Ode, and Partey but otherwise, I would take the risk.

    p.s Doc, please tell me where and how you sold your soul 🙂

  26. 26
    Trev says:

    Cheers, Dr F !

    I think I got the starter for 10 in paragraph one – still trying to work out what the next question was. In case you don’t get the reference it relates to my appearance with Jeremy Paxman on Universally Challenged (sic).

    Tierney is out apparently and I’m of sure quite what the point is in including Gabriel in an otherwise completely changed back five. Otherwise your selection makes good sense.

    Come on you Reddsss !

  27. 27
    Esso says:

    Cheers Doc!

    Turner, White, Saliba, Kiwior, Zinchenko, Jorginho, Xhaka, Vieira, Nelson, Saka, Martinelli

    Subs: Ramsdale, Hillson, Partey, Gabriel, Smith Rowe, Holding, Tomiyasu, Bandeira, Sagoe Jr, Smith, Walters

  28. 28
    Esso says:

    ESR must be sick or injured again?

  29. 29
    Esso says:

    Ignore that stupidity – just seen he’s on the bench.

  30. 30
    OsakaMatt says:

    It’s Europe I suppose so take the draw and on we go to the 2nd leg.
    I thought we were the better side but hopefully everyone will come out of it ok
    and we’ll take it next week.

  31. 31
    Esso says:

    Take a draw from 2-1 down

  32. 32
    Bathgooner says:

    We were understandably well below our best so a draw was a fair result. Tomi stiffened our left flank and we took control after 70 when Partey, Gabriel and ESR came on. That justifies optimism for the home leg.

  33. 33
    North Bank Ned says:

    More twists and turns to come in this tie, I suspect. But it is even-Stephens at the halfway point.

    The big takeaway is how important Gabriel is to our aerial defence. Like Partey, you don’t realise how important until he is not there.

    Dr F@18, belatedly: You have got me reading Pessoa’s prose, which is a delight.

  34. 34
    OsakaMatt says:

    Nice to see Saliba back amongst the goals, and OG too. Though OG’s last one was funnier, this one was timely too.

  35. 35
    bt8 says:

    Gabriel is the rock of our back line.

  36. 36
    Bathgooner says: