Arsenal kept their hopes of winning a famous double on track with a fiery 2-2 draw in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie at Sporting CP on Thursday.
The Gunners took the lead, went behind and fought back to ensure it ended all square at Estadio Jose Alvalade in a four-goal encounter high on drama.
First-half headers from William Saliba and Goncalo Inacio left the two sides on level terms at the break, before Paulinho’s tap-in had pushed Ruben Amorim’s men in front.
But a Hidemasa Morita own goal just beyond the hour mark ensured Mikel Arteta’s Premier League leaders will head into next week’s second leg level with the Portuguese side.
Honours even in the first leg
Back to Emirates Stadium next week pic.twitter.com/UgXWEv5fua
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) March 9, 2023
On a humid evening, both teams started in cagey fashion, creating few clear-cut chances amid an atmosphere of simmering tension.
That taut mood increased in the 22nd minute when Saliba rose to power Fabio Vieira’s corner home, with an off-the-ball altercation involving Oleksandr Zinchenko then sparking a minor melee.
Sporting refused to be cowed by their concession though, and took just a dozen minutes to strike back in near-identical fashion, with Inacio the man to divert a Marcus Edwards set-piece past Matt Turner.
The hosts then hit the front just 10 minutes after the restart, when Turner parried a Pote attempt straight to Paulinho, who fired home from close range.
Arsenal rose to the occasion once again though, albeit not without controversy after Bukayo Saka was adjudged to have been committed a foul in the build-up to Granit Xhaka’s finish ricocheting in off Morita.
That left the tie nicely poised ahead of the return leg at Emirates Stadium next week.
What does it mean? Gunners grind out draw
In a topsy-turvy encounter where it felt like cool heads were needed to prevail, it took a slice of fortune for Arsenal to avoid defeat.
They will be content to return to north London knowing they have a winner-takes-all contest on their hands.
Martinelli makes his presence felt
While defender Saliba was the only Arsenal player on the scoresheet, Gabriel Martinelli made his presence felt as he spent most of the match harassing the Sporting defence.
His three attempts on goal were more than any of his team-mates, though a superb breakaway run in the second half came to nothing after he dallied too long on the ball.
Tough time for Morita
Japan international Morita’s evening did not go to plan.
In addition to finding the back of his own net, Morita picked up a booking that will see him suspended for the return tie, as did club captain Sebastian Coates.
Key Opta facts
– Sporting have avoided defeat in four European games against English opposition, winning one and drawing three.
– Arsenal have now won only one of their past six European knockout stage games, drawing three and losing two.
– Since the World Cup, four of the 17 goals Arsenal have conceded have come from corners, compared to just two of 17 prior to the international break.
– Paulinho is only the second player to score against Arsenal and Tottenham in a single season in European competition, after Youssef El Arabi for Olympiakos in 2019-20 (excluding qualifying rounds).
– Saliba scored his first goal in a European club competition. No Premier League centre-back has scored more goals this season than his three.
Both sides return to domestic action this weekend, with Arsenal heading to Fulham and Sporting hosting Boavista on Sunday.
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