Arsenal and Sporting club de Portugal (Sporting) played out an entertaining 2-2 draw in the first leg of the Europa League round of 16 on Thursday, March 9.
The Gunners qualified directly for the round of 16 having topped their group, winning 15 points from a possible 18. They entered this contest in good form, having won four of their last five games across competitions. Their last game was a dramatic 3-2 win over Bournemouth in stoppage-time to keep momentum for the title charge going.
Mikel Arteta made six changes to the side that played against the Cherries as January signing Jakub Kiwior made his debut and Reiss Nelson was handed a start.
Arsenal made a positive start to the game and looked composed and confident in possession. They carried early momentum and pushed several players into Sporting’s half in the early exchanges. However, it took a while before the Gunners found their rhythm in the final third. Nelson and Bukayo Saka played some good passes into the box but in vain.
The visitors grabbed the lead in the 22nd minute from a corner by Fabio Vieira as William Saliba rose the highest to nod the ball into the net. There was a short brawl between the two sets of players following the goal and Oleksandr Zinchenko and Sebastian Coates were booked as a result. Sporting came up with an identical goal 12 minutes later as Goncalo Inacio scored a thumping header to make it 1-1.
Sporting had a big chance to grab the lead just before the break as Jakub Kiwior fumbled his backpass to Matt Turner. However, they were unable to capitalize as the teams went into the break tied at 1-1.
Arsenal made a strong start to the second half and created several chances in the early stages following the restart. Despite their sustained pressure, they failed to convert their chances. Sporting, on the other hand, made a flying start as they scored their second goal in the 55th minute as Paulinho converted from close-range.
Sporting, however, found themselves level just seven minutes after taking the lead. Granit Xhaka’s cross took a wicked deflection off Hidemasa Morita before going into the back of the net to make it 2-2 after 62 minutes. Both managers turned to their respective benches and made three changes apiece as they looked to close out the game.
Neither side managed to grab a winner after four minutes of added time were played as the first leg ended in a 2-2 draw. On that note, let’s take a look at the Arsenal’s player ratings.
Arsenal Player Ratings
Matt Turner – 7/10
Turner made a decent start to the game but had his heart in his mouth just before half-time as Kiwior played the ball to an opponent. He rushed to the ball and gathered it to diffuse the situation. He made four saves overall.
Benjamin White – 6/10
White made a slow start to the game. He won just one of his five duels and was dispossessed eight times.
William Saliba – 7.5/10
Saliba scored a good header to put Arsenal a goal to the good in the first period. He won four of hsi six duels, making four clearances, two interceptions and one tackle. He also played one key pass and four long balls.
Jakub Kiwior – 6/10
Kiwior struggled in the first half as he was unable to win any of his four duels. He lost another duel in the second half but passed the ball with 96% accuracy and was replaced by Gabriel.
Oleksandr Zinchenko – 7/10
Zinchenko started the game well but was booked for arguing with the referee in the first half. He won five of his seven duels, making two tackles. He also played two key passes and attempted one shot on target.
Fabio Vieira – 7.5/10
Vieira made a positive start and provided an assist for Arsenal’s first goal from a corner in the first half. He won five duels, played four crosses, three long balls and two key passes.
Jorginho – 6.5/10
The Italian looked comfortable in Arsenal’s midfield and distributed the ball well. He passed the ball with 94% accuracy, including two long balls. He also won two duels and made two interceptions.
Granit Xhaka – 8/10
Xhaka made a positive start to the game and was a commanding presence in midfield. He won six of his seven duels, making four tackles in the process. He passed the ball with 88% accuracy, including one key pass and two long balls. His deflected cross saw Arsenal draw level in the second half.
Bukayo Saka – 7.5/10
Saka made a sharp start to the game and looked dangerous when he cut inside from the right wing. He won 12 of his 15 duels and completed a stunning eight dribbles to get past defenders. Saka also had two attempts on target but was unable to score.
Gabriel Martinelli – 7/10
Martinelli made some good runs in central areas but was unable to find his mojo inside Sporting’s 18-yard box in the first period. He was booked for interfering with play in the 43rd minute. He won eight duels and completed seven dribbles.
Reiss Nelson – 7/10
Nelson looked sharp running down Arsenal’s left wing and dribbled the ball well with both his feet. He completed three dribbles and attempted two shots but failed to hit the target. He won five duels and played two key passes and four crosses.
Takehiro Tomiyasu – 7/10
Tomiyasu replaced Zinchenko shortly after the hour-mark and played well. He won seven of his eight duels, making one interception and one tackle.
Thomas Partey – 6.5/10
Partey came on in the second period and passed the ball with 90% accuracy. He also won one duel and made one interception.
Emile Smith Rowe – 6.5/10
Smith Rowe replaced Nelson in the last 20 minutes and played well.
Gabriel Magalhaes – 6.5/10
Gabriel replaced Kiwior in the closing stages and won four of his five duels, making one clearance.
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