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 Sport The 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 Estádio José Alvalade was epitomized by Arsenal being bright and sharp on offense and sloppy on defense at the same time. Backup goalie Matt Turner had a particularly rough evening and was rusty when he first appeared in six weeks. After failing 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 save a draw. Gabriel MartinelliResurrected after being removed from the team by Arteta Fabio VieiraHe has produced another promising spectacle, currently the only Arsenal player to feature in every Europa Leage fixture this season. Martinelli was particularly threatening, nearly scoring one of the season’s goals by running alone from the midfield line, but Jeremiah St. It was rejected by Juste.
This came as Paulinho put Sporting ahead and the midfielder squandered a spectacular chance to add third after the goal-ending game. 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. The goal was approaching, and Martinelli and Vieira were also denied by goalkeeper Adan in a wild part of the game 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 the league leaders, but lost their way. It can of course be attributed to the changes Arteta has made, but given Arsenal’s position in the title race, the Spaniard certainly could not have taken any other approach. Arteta has shown such consistency with his team in the Premier League with eight players playing in all 26 games, but maintaining that approach in Europe is clearly unsustainable.
Turner’s performance is as rusty as the simple and obvious fact that the 28-year-old is not on Aaron Ramsdale’s level. As long as Ramsdale hasn’t suffered an injury in the last 12 game campaign, it shouldn’t give Arsenal fans much to worry about.
Still, it highlights the importance of Arteta’s roster 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 at times menacingly, while Buakyo Saka, who stood 90 minutes into Sunday’s upcoming Fulham road trip, 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.