Arsenal’s Europa League last-16 game with Sporting Lisbon hangs in the balance after the Gunners drew 2-2 in the first leg on Thursday at the Stadium Jose Alvalade.
William Saliba scored in the 22nd minute with a header from Fábio Vieira’s corner, however Sporting equalised 12 minutes later when Gonçalo Inácio flicked in Marcus Edwards’ pass.
Paulinho gave the home side the lead 10 minutes after the restart, before Gabriel Martinelli nearly scored a stunning solo goal, dribbling from within his own half and rounding Sporting goalkeeper Antonio Adan, only for Jeremiah St. Juste to make a last-ditch intervention. On 62 minutes, Arsenal equalised after Sporting CP’s Hidemasa Morita misdirected Granit Xhaka’s ball into his own goal.
The second leg takes place next Thursday, with Arsenal looking to reach the quarterfinals for the fourth time in six seasons.
- Arteta makes substitutions, but Arsenal continues to press on two fronts.
They needed a few of pieces of luck, none more so than their second equaliser, which ricocheted off Morita after a hopeful ambitious pass from Xhaka. Yet Arsenal will be confident of completing the job in front of their own supporters next week to advance to the quarterfinals.
It would have been logical to believe that the Europa League was one of Arsenal’s greatest prospects of success in August, but now that they have a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League, alterations to the starting lineup were arguably unavoidable with Fulham coming up in league action on Sunday.
Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta made six changes today, prompted in part by the absences of Martin Odegaard and Kieran Tierney, as well as Leandro Trossard (groyne) and Eddie Nketiah (ankle). Despite the enthusiasm, Gabriel Jesus did not travel as he prepares to recover from knee surgery.
Jakub Kiwior made his debut, while Reiss Nelson returned to the starting lineup following his weekend heroics against Bournemouth. Arsenal’s play was unavoidably less fluid, particularly with so many important players missing from the start, including Gabriel, Thomas Partey, and Odegaard, and at 2-1 down, Paulinho lost a golden opportunity to turn the game around.
Nonetheless, a draw with home advantage puts the Gunners favourites to reach the final eight.
- Vieira’s performance was a mixed bag, but one to improve on.
Only Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka (nine assists) has more assists in all competitions this season than Vieira’s six.
Vieira’s latest was straightforward: a corner swung against Saliba’s head. The other opponents he has assisted against — Bodo/Glimt, Oxford United Wolves, and Aston Villa — may be indicative of the few chances he has had to shine so far.
With just his 12th start, Vieira was unable to command play with the same power as Odegaard – the guy he was basically replacing. He completed 31 of his 39 passes, although just 67% of them were in the final third.
Further progress is required, but there are glimpses of hope for the 22-year-old.
- Arsenal’s set-pieces are becoming a worry.
The two first-half goals were quite similar in construction (a close-range header from a corner), and it is not the first time Arsenal has appeared susceptible on set pieces in recent weeks.
That was their sixth goal from dead-ball situations, seven if you consider Bournemouth’s kickoff routine that resulted in a goal in nine seconds last weekend. Manchester United, Everton, Brentford, Bournemouth, and now Sporting have all profited from Arsenal’s vulnerability on set plays.
Individual blunders were made in dealing with Sporting CP attacker Marcus Edwards’ 34th-minute corner. Arsenal’s Gabriel Martinelli let Gonçalo Inácio slip through his grasp much too easily, Jakub Kiwior dipped beneath Edwards’ pass, and Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner failed to command his six-yard area.
It’s scarcely worth worrying about Arsenal’s set pieces at this point, but after losing 1-0 to Everton on a corner goal, Sky Sports analyst Gary Neville said: “That did concern me a little, [Arsenal’s] management of set pieces, as well as your handling of crosses into the box. If rival teams, analysts, and coaches identify a possible vulnerability, you must address it immediately.”
The truth is that Arsenal hasn’t addressed the issue, and other clubs seem to be catching on.