Arsenal manager Unai Emery has challenged his team to beat Sporting Lisbon to qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League as group winners.
The Gunners have won all three of their Europa League matches and will guarantee top spot with two games to spare with a home win on Thursday.
Sporting are second in Group E, with six points from their three matches.
“It’s a very important match because if we win we’re first in the group – that’s our clear target,” said Emery.
“This competition is very important for us. It’s one way to win a title and get into the Champions League next year.
“We want to continue to improve and to continue with the players taking responsibility and confidence. I want to continue at the Emirates with our supporters with the same spirit as in the matches against Blackpool, Leicester and Liverpool.”
Danny Welbeck scored the only goal in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Sporting in Portugal in October.
Another Arsenal win would take them to 12 points and mean Sporting could not overtake them, even if the Gunners lost their last two group games, as Emery’s side would have the better head-to-head record.
Sporting are third in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, but sacked manager Jose Peseiro last week after they lost 2-1 at home to second-tier side Estoril in the League Cup, with Dutchman Marcel Keizer, a former Ajax manager, set to replace him.
“They are a team with very good players, very good history, also in this competition,” added Emery.
“They’ve changed the coach but this is a very big match and a very good test as they are also fighting for first position.”
Arsenal defenders Konstantinos Mavropanos, Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal have all returned to training after groin, Achilles and hamstring injuries respectively, but will not feature on Thursday.
Koscielny has not played since getting injured early on in the Gunners’ Europa League semi-final second leg in May, but Emery said he could return to action later this month.
“He’s nearer, closer to being with us in the competitive games,” said Emery. “He is feeling well and getting better every day.
“We’re going to think after the international break how we can continue working and how he can start playing games.”
Monreal has been unavailable for a month and Emery said he would not be rushed back.
“With Nacho we’re in a very precautionary moment because we don’t want to repeat the same injury,” added Emery.
Former Liverpool defender Sebastian Coates and ex-Manchester United winger Nani featured for Sporting in their 2-1 Primeira Liga win over Santa Clara on Saturday.
- Arsenal are unbeaten in their three meetings with Sporting (won two, drew one), not conceding a single goal in those games.
- Arsenal have won each of their last three games in major European competition – they have not won four such games in a row since a run of six between March – November 2005.
- Danny Welbeck has scored more goals in the Europa League than any other Arsenal player since the start of last season (five).
- Sporting have lost each of their last four meetings with English opposition since beating Manchester City at home in the Europa League last 16 in 2011-12.
- Sporting have managed just four wins from their last 27 away games in major European competition (drew four, lost 19), though one of those wins was last time out against Vorskla Poltava.