Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says his side must “improve massively” if they are to continue winning games after the Gunners were held by Sporting Lisbon in an entertaining Europa League last-16 first leg. France defender William Saliba put the Premier League leaders ahead with a towering header before Sporting took advantage of poor defending to score either side of half-time through Goncalo Inacio and Paulinho. An own goal by the hosts’ Japanese midfielder Hidemasa Morita ensured Arsenal will start on level terms when the teams meet in the return leg at Emirates Stadium next Thursday (20:00 GMT).
However, Arteta was unimpressed his side had conceded two goals for the second successive game. In an absorbing game in the Portuguese capital, Arsenal’s first-half lead lasted just 12 minutes before Inacio nodded home the equaliser after hesitancy from keeper Matt Turner. Paulinho fired Sporting ahead from close range only for Arsenal to equalise through a wicked deflection off Morita. Both teams created numerous chances in a free-flowing encounter. Sporting’s former Tottenham winger Marcus Edwards was denied by Turner when the score was 1-1, while Paulinho wasted a great opportunity to make it 3-1. Arsenal had a chance to take a lead back to London but Fabio Vieira’s header was kept out by Antonio Adan.
Arsenal are chasing a first Premier League title since 2003-04 but Arteta clearly sees the Europa League as something worth winning rather than a distraction to the main prize. Despite making six changes, he fielded several key players in Portugal including Gabriel Martinelli – Arsenal’s leading scorer in the Premier League – and Bukayo Saka before Sunday’s London derby at Fulham (14:00). It is all to play for in seven days’ time in the return leg against Sporting, but Arteta’s side will have to improve defensively if they are to advance to the quarter-finals against opponents who started the season in the Champions League. Poland defender Jakub Kiwior made his first Arsenal appearance since arriving in January from Serie A side Spezia for £17.6m while Turner produced a mixed performance after replacing first-choice keeper Aaron Ramsdale.