This Europa League there will be no competition that defines Arsenalseason but away from the pressure of the championship race, Mikel Arteta however, he could have had an easier night than that. After making six changes to the team he will face SportThe Arsenal manager saw an evening of control and authority seeping into the utterly hilarious chaos of a knockout draw in Lisbon. After a 2-2 draw, next week’s decisive second match will be played between Premier League fixtures against Fulham and Crystal Palace, where Arteta’s priorities should clearly lie.
Arteta had the chance to rest key players including Martin Odegaard, Thomas Partey and Aaron Ramsdale, and an awkward game at Estadio Jose Alvalade was epitomized by Arsenal being bright and sharp on offense but also sloppy on defense. Backup goalie Matt Turner had a particularly rough evening and was rusty when he first appeared in six weeks. Unable to dominate the penalty area in a corner and allowing Goncalo Inacio to head less than six yards from Sporting’s equalizer, the American risked the ball again for Paulinho’s second-half rebound.
Arsenal resisted to come back and avoid defeat. Gabriel MartinelliRevived after being removed from the team by Arteta, he excelled in the process. Fabio VieiraHe put on another promising performance, currently the only Arsenal player to feature in every Europa League fixture this season. Martinelli was particularly threatening, nearly scoring one of the season’s goals by running alone from the midfield line, but the slipping Jeremiah St. It was rejected by Juste.
This came as Paulinho gave Sporting the lead and the midfielder squandered a fantastic chance and added third after scoring. Paulinho’s finish was insane and crossed the bar, and Granit Xhaka’s long-range shot deflected badly from behind Sporting’s Hidemasa Morita, giving Arsenal another slice of fortune. Although lucky, Martinelli and Vieira were also scored as they were rejected by goalkeeper Adan in a tough period of play after the first half.
How Arsenal find themselves in this position after starting will certainly be scrutinized by Arteta, who watches from time to time with a worried look. It is certainly alarming that Sporting has added to the list of set pieces Arsenal have eaten since the start of the year. They’ve had at least four in recent weeks with the Gunners, who have also scored from a corner or free kick against Everton, Brentford and Bournemouth.
Arsenal navigated the opening half hour with the authority and fluency of league leaders, but lost their way. It can of course be attributed to the changes Arteta made, but given Arsenal’s five-point lead over Manchester City in the title race, the Spaniard could not have taken any other approach. Arteta has shown such consistency with his team in the Premier League with eight players in all 26 games, but maintaining that approach in Europe is clearly unsustainable.
Turner’s performance can be left to rust, aside from the simple and obvious fact that the 28-year-old is not on Aaron Ramsdale’s level. Unless Ramsdale is injured in the last 12 games of the campaign, it shouldn’t give Arsenal fans much to worry about.
Still, he stresses the importance of Arteta’s team players being ready to come and make an impact when needed as we enter such an important part of the season. Reiss Nelson demonstrated this with his stunning performance on the bench against Bournemouth last weekend that won his game. The winger started in Lisbon but failed to reach another high point there.
Making his second consecutive debut on his return to Portugal, Vieira continued to show that he was ready to play a role. In the midst of a brilliant performance, it was his corner that set William Saliba’s opener – as smooth as Arsenal’s goal minutes later. Vieira and Martinelli swap places menacingly at times, while Buakyo Saka, who took 90 minutes against Sunday’s upcoming trip to Fulham, remained silent. Jakub Kiwior made his debut for the Polish national team after his £16m transfer from Spezia in January, and at least his appearance wasn’t as memorable as Turner’s.
Sporting showed enough to show that they’re going to make the return leg awkward at the Emirates next week. They had won four games in a row before hosting Arsenal, but their disappointing season was reflected in the piles of empty seats in Lisbon. Their performance deserved more support. Tottenham’s former talent Marcus Edwards was once again in the spotlight and Arsenal could be upset next week if they aren’t careful. Premier League priorities remain, but Arsenal will need more alignment if they want to stay in Europe this season.