Disjointed Arsenal struggle against Sporting but Gunners still well-placed to reach Europa League last-eight
After the dramatic scenes against Bournemouth last weekend, Arsenal served up yet more entertainment here in Lisbon.
This was not, however, a game Mikel Arteta will remember that fondly as the Gunners battled to a 2-2 draw against Sporting in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie.
This was a bizarre game and one where Arsenal were lacking their usual fluency in possession. The fact Arteta made six changes probably didn’t help that, but this was still a strong side and more than good enough to beat Sporting.
In the end, the Gunners needed a fortuitous own-goal by Hidemasa Morita to take a draw back to London for next week’s second leg.
Arteta will have breathed a sigh of relief at that because at times it looked like Arsenal could easily return home empty handed.
Matt Turner looked shaky in goal and debutant Jakub Kiwior also looked rusty in the heart of defence.
Ahead of them, the midfield was devoid of its usual cohesion. Without Martin Odegaard and Thomas Partey there was a lack of athleticism and Granit Xhaka and Jorginho struggled to really click. Both players’ passing radars were just a little off it.
The positive for Arsenal will be that they did not sparkle here and yet they remain in a good position to progress. Win at Emirates Stadium next week and they are in the hat for the quarter-finals.
As it was, Arsenal took the lead midway through the first-half of this game courtesy of a corner. Fabio Vieira swung the ball in from the right and William Saliba was able to head home unmarked.
Sporting were unhappy with the goal, arguing Oleksandr Zinchenko had bundled Sebastian Coates over when the cross came in. Zinchenko then taunted the Sporting defender and both players were booked after their team-mates had to pull them apart.
Arsenal failed to kick on from there and instead Sporting were able to equalise through a near carbon copy of the Gunners’ goal.
Former Tottenham forward Marcus Edwards swung in a corner and Goncalo Inacio was able to head the ball in from a few yards out. Neither debutant Kiwior nor goalkeeper Turner will be pleased with their part in it.
Turner’s evening almost got worse just before the break, when he was nearly caught out trying to play out from the back.It summed up Arsenal’s disjointed first-half and they started the second with much more purpose.
Vieira fired a shot just wide and Gabriel Martinelli headed an effort over too. Sporting were threatening at the other end as well, and the Arsenal defence was being stretched.
They were eventually broken just after the hour mark, with Paulinho pouncing after Turner could only save the ball to his feet.
The hosts were only ahead for seven minutes, though, as Arsenal equalised. It was a goal as bizarre as this frantic and disjointed match. Granit Xhaka tried to play in Martinelli, but the ball hit Morita and wrong-footed Sporting goalkeeper Antonio Adan to find the bottom corner.
In the final 20 minutes, Arteta sent on the calvary as Gabriel and Thomas Partey came on. They brought some calm to a stormy game, but they couldn’t find a goal.