MATCH REPORT: Sporting 2 – 2 Arsenal

Sporting Clube de Portugal (1) 2 Arsenal (1) 2

Europa League, Round of Sixteen, First Leg of Two

Estádio José Alvalade, Rua Professor Fernando da Fonseca, 1501-806 Lisboa, Portugal

Thursday, 9th March 2023. Kick-off time: 5.45pm

(4-3-3) Matt Turner; Ben White, William Saliba, Jakob Kiwior, Oleksandr Zinchenko; Fabio Vieira, (Marcus Vinicius Oliveira Alencar) Marquinhos, Granit Xhaka (c); Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Reiss Nelson.

Substitutes: Aaron Ramsdale, Thomas Partey, Gabriel Magalhães, Emile Smith-Rowe, Rob Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Mauro Bandeira, James Hillson, Charles Sagoe Junior, Matt Smith, Reuell Walters.

Scorers: William Saliba (22 mins), Hidemasa Morita (62 mins o.g.)

Yellow Cards: Oleksandr Zinchenko, Gabriel Martinelli

Arsenal Possession Percentage: 68%

Referee: Tobias Stieler (Germany)

Assistant Referees: Christian Gittelmann (Germany), Mark Borsch (Germany)

Fourth Official: Robert Schröder (Germany)

Referee Observer: Carlos Velasco Carballo (Spain)

VAR Team at UEFA: VAR Bastian Dankert (Germany); AVAR Sören Storks (Germany)

Attendance: 36,006

Mikel Arteta has picked an interesting team tonight, with six changes from last Saturday’s game against AFC Bournemouth. It is also good to see quite a few young players on the substitute’s bench tonight as well. Our captain, Martin Ødegaard, is unwell this evening, so Granit Xhaka takes the armband for this crucial away fixture in Lisbon.

A first touch for debutant Jakub Kiwior as we pass it around the back before Ben White tried to catch out the opposition’s defence with a ball over the top for Bukayo Saka, which was cleared to safety. A good try early on in the game, though. Reiss Nelson chipped the ball in from the left but Gabriel Martinelli was stretching as his header was picked up fairly easily by the Sporting keeper. The home side had a good chance to score from Pedro Goncalves which thankfully went nowhere, and a couple of minutes later, a Gabriel Martinelli shot was parried by the goalie, which gave us a corner kick. From the corner, Granit Xhaka nicely set up Fabio Vieira but his shot was blocked on the edge of the box by a Sporting defender. Bukayo Saka passed the ball to Fabio Vieira to his right and defender Matheus Reis slid in to concede a corner. From the corner, taken by Fabio Vieira, it was curled in straight to William Saliba and he sent a strong header past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to open the scoring. Sadly, after the goal, the home side reacted angrily for something that happened off the ball in the build-up, and because of the confrontation that appeared, both Oleksandr Zinchenko and Sebastian Coates were both booked. Fabio Vieira was then caught by Sebastian Coates, who had just been booked (and very lucky not to have been sent off for his trouble), on the edge of the Sporting penalty area. The home side started to string some good passes together, and Matt Turner was called into action with a couple of superb saves. Unfortunately, from a corner, Goncalo Inacio scored the equalising goal with ten minutes of the first half remaining. As expected, we came straight back at them, with some very strong attacks. Fabio Vieira lobbed it into the box but it was headed away for Oleksandr Zinchenko to pick it up and his shot went flying into the crowd. With three minutes before the break, Fabio Vieira curled a ball in towards Granit Xhaka and it was cleared by a defender for another Arsenal corner. The ball was sent in deep towards the back post but the header from Granit Xhaka was kept out by a combination of the post and goalkeeper. In the confusion afterwards, Gabriel Martinelli received a pointless yellow card, and in injury time, Granit Xhaka whipped in a cross that Reiss Nelson was unlucky not to get a foot to. Matt Turner wobbled and gifted a ball it to Marcus Edwards but he was fortunate that the ball bounced straight off the Sporting man and he could easily gather it up. In the final minute of injury time, Oleksandr Zinchenko played a superb ball over the top of the Sporting defence looking for Gabriel Martinelli but their defence blocked him off and slotted the ball calmly back to their goalkeeper.

The home side kicked off the second half, and they came straight at us, forcing Matt Turner to make a couple of good saves in order to keep the Sporting forwards away from his goal. A couple of minutes later, Oleksandr Zinchenko deceived the Sporting defence with a clever chip that Gabriel Martinelli ran onto, but sadly his effort was pushed aside by the Sporting goalie. Fabio Vieira had a chance that was saved by the goalkeeper, and a couple of minutes later a superb Gabriel Martinelli header went inches over the bar. Sadly, the home team took the lead shortly afterwards when a shot from Pedro Goncalves was deflected back into the middle of the penalty area and Paulinho was on hand to score Sporting’s second goal. On the hour, Gabriel Martinelli almost scored an incredible solo goal, when he ran all the way from the halfway line, avoiding several challenges and going around the keeper before Jeremiah St Juste sprinted back to make a crucial, goal-saving last-ditch challenge. The game was moving fast with chances at both ends of the pitch, but suddenly we grabbed a second, equalising goal when a Granit Xhaka cross deflected off Hidemasa Morita and bounced awkwardly into his own net.There was a VAR check for the challenge from granit Xhaka in the build-up to the goal, but thankfully the goal stood. Just after the restart, Takehiro Tomiyasu replaced Oleksandr Zinchenko and a minute or so later, Fabio Vieira almost scored with a great header that went inches over the bar. Gabriel Martinelli picked out Reiss Nelson on the edge of the penalty area but his shot went way over the crossbar. With seventeen minutes of the game remaining, Mikel Arteta made three substitutions; Thomas Partey, Emile-Smith Rowe and Gabriel replaced Jakub Kiwior, Jorginho and Reiss Nelson to add some spark to the proceedings, hopefully. The match started to get a little bit scrappy, and despite a superb effort by Fabio Vieira which was deemed to be offside, with about ten minutes of the match remaining, Emile Smith-Rowe’s free kick was curled in towards Takehiro Tomiyasu but he was penalised for a push on a Sporting defender in the penalty area. William Saliba blocked a shot from Jeremiah St Juste (who received a deserved yellow card for a late foul on Takehiro Tomiyasu) and a couple of minutes before the end of the match, we had a penalty call turned down when Granit Xhaka went down in the Sporting penalty area. In the four minutes injury time, Mikel Arteta could be seen urging his players to keep on moving as they tried to find a way through the Sporting defence in the dying minutes. Ben White was being screamed at by Mikel Arteta to get back and stay in the defensive shape, just as Bukayo Saka cut inside a Sporting defender to hit it straight at the goalkeeper. A minute later, referee Tobias Stieler blew the whistle for the end of the game, and all in all, there was relief all round.

Basically, it is all to play for in seven days’ time back at the Emirates, but Mikel Arteta knows that we will have to improve defensively if we are to advance to the quarter-finals against opponents who started the season in the Champions League. We were wobbly at times tonight, but at least we took a draw away from Lisbon. All to play for next Thursday in London, but before that, there is a little matter of yet another derby day in the Premiership, this time at Craven Cottage. Keep going boys.

Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday, 12th March at 2.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.


Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon


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