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Arsenal’s draw against Sporting CP in the Europa League exposes the weakness of set pieces

Arsenal’s Europa League round of 16 tie with Sporting Lisbon is well set up after the Gunners secured a 2-2 draw in Thursday’s first leg at the Estadio José Alvalade.

Guillermo Saliba He opened the scoring with a header in the 22nd minute of Fabio VieiraSporting’s corner before Sporting scored a similar goal at the other end 12 minutes later when Gonçalo Inácio looked home marcus edwards‘ delivery.

paulinho gave the hosts the lead 10 minutes after the restart before gabriel martinelli came close to scoring a sublime solo goal, dribbling from inside his own half and rounding out the Sporting goalkeeper anthony adamonly for Jeremiah Saint Just to make a last minute intervention. Arsenal restored parity in the 62nd minute when Sporting CP’s Morita Hidemasa He suffered the misfortune of diverting Xhaka GraniteThe pass to your own network.

The second leg takes place next Thursday and Arsenal will be hoping to secure their place in the quarter-finals for the fourth time in six seasons.

quick reaction

1. Arteta brings changes but Arsenal keep pushing on two fronts

They needed a couple of lucky breaks, none more so than their second equalizing goal which bounced off Morita via a hopeful aggressive pass from Xhaka. But Arsenal will be hoping to finish the job in front of their own fans next week to reach the quarter-finals.

It would have been reasonable to think in August that the Europa League was one of Arsenal’s best chances of success, but now that they hold a five-point lead at the top of the Premier League, changes to the starting line-up were perhaps inevitable. with Fulham to play the league on Sunday.

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Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta made six changes here, partly due to illness. martin odegaard and Kieran Tierney while Leandro Trossard (groin) and Eddie Nketiah (ankle) were also behind in London. And despite a flurry of emotion, gabriel jesus He also did not travel as the return from knee surgery is approaching.

jakub kiwior made his debut while nelson reiss he came into the line-up after his last-minute heroics against Bournemouth at the weekend. Inevitably, there was a little less fluidity in Arsenal’s play, especially with so many key players, including Gabriel, Thomas Partey and Odegaard, uninvolved from kick-off — and trailing 2-1, paulinho he missed a glorious opportunity to give the tie a completely different look.

But as it stands, a tie on home field advantage makes the Gunners favorites to reach the last eight.

2. Vieira’s performance is a mixed bag, but one to build off of.

Only Bukayo Saka (nine) has provided more assists in all competitions this season for Arsenal than Vieira’s six.

Vieira’s latest was simple enough: a corner kick spun over Saliba’s head. The other opponents he has assists against – Bodo/Glimt, Oxford United Wolves and Aston Villa – are perhaps a symptom of the limited opportunities he has had to impress so far.

In what was just his 12th start, Vieira was unable to dictate play with the same authority as Odegaard, the player he was effectively replacing. He completed 31 of his 39 passes, but only 67% of those were in the final third.

More improvements are needed, but there are signs of encouragement for the 22-year-old to continue.

3. Set pieces threaten to become a problem for Arsenal

The two first-half goals were very similar in construction – a header from a close-range corner – and it’s not the first time Arsenal have looked vulnerable from set pieces in recent weeks.

It was the sixth goal they have conceded in dead-ball situations, seven if you count Bournemouth’s kick-off routine that led to a goal in nine seconds last weekend. manchester United, EvertonBrentford, Bournemouth and now Sporting have also benefited from Arsenal’s weakness on set pieces.

There were a series of individual errors when tackling the corner kick in the 34th minute from the Sporting CP striker marcus edwards. from the arsenal gabriel martinelli allowed Gonçalo Inácio to escape his attention too easily, jakub kiwior dodged delivery from Edwards and the Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner he did not know how to dominate his small area.

It’s not worth panicking about Arsenal’s set pieces at this stage, but after losing 1-0 at Everton to a corner goal, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville said: “It worried me a bit. , (Arsenal’s) handling of the set pieces, not only that, but your handling of crosses into the box. Once other teams, analysts and coaches see a potential weakness, you will have to nip it in the bud.”

The fact is that Arsenal have not addressed the problem and apparently other teams are taking notice.

Best and worst performers

Best: Marcus Edwards, Sporting CP

The former Spurs winger (although he never played for them) was involved in both goals and a regular threat to Arsenal’s back line.

Best: Sebastian Coates, Sporting CP

He helped keep Arsenal at bay with some vital interceptions. Suspended after picking up a reservation and will be forfeited.

Best: William Saliba, Arsenal

He scored the opening goal and recovered the ball eight times, providing a solid presence to help Kiwior on his debut.

Worst: Matt Turner, Arsenal

He made a couple of reasonable saves but was shaky on more than one occasion and arguably could have shown more authority for Sporting’s opening goal.

Worst: Reiss Nelson, Arsenal

He was unable to build on their surprise win against Bournemouth.

Worst: Jakub Kiwior, Arsenal

Perhaps he got a call from Turner to leave the ball for Sporting’s first goal, but on the surface it seemed like a huge mistake.

Highlights and Highlights

William Saliba opened the scoring in the 22nd minute with a header from point-blank range.

Fábio Vieira got the assist with a cross after a corner.

Some 12 minutes later, Sporting CP scored a similar goal when Gonçalo Inácio headed in from close range.

He was assisted by Marcus Edwards with a cross following a corner.

After the game: What the coaches and players had to say

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta on whether they were lucky to escape with a draw:I don’t know if we were lucky. Obviously the second goal was lucky, but Martinelli went on target and had a great chance. It is true that at 2-1 we gave up after a direct play and then we lost a runner and they had a chance to make it 3-1. Many things to improve, that’s for sure. But we also showed a lot of resilience to stay in the game, get back in the game and be alive in the tie.”

Arteta on the team’s performance: “Considering that we conceded two goals away from home and you still come away with a draw, you have to take some positive things. I think we conceded two very bad goals, we gave them hope, especially with a lot of gifts and simple balls that we lost on our own half. There were other times when we were in complete control of the game and looked like a threat but lacked the ability to punish them a little bit near the box. Admittedly, we are missing four of our main attacking players. Overall, it’s all for what to play and we have to play at the Emirates”.

Arsenal’s William Saliba on the result: “Today was not an easy game, but we scored the first goal and then they made it 1-1 and then they made it 2-1. As always, we never gave up and we scored the second goal. We have a game back home and we’re going to give everything to win. We conceded two goals and the most important thing is that we didn’t lose and we have another game left”.

Key statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • American goalkeeper Matt Turner earned his seventh start of the season for Arsenal in all competitions. He has kept a clean sheet four times.

  • Matt Turner recorded -2.00 goals prevented against Sporting CP, his worst result since joining Arsenal in June.

Until next time

Sports PC: lions continues in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, hosting Boavista on Sunday March 12. Sporting CP then continues in the Europa League with the second leg at Arsenal on Thursday 16 March.

Arsenal: The Gunners resume the Premier League by visiting Fulham on Sunday 12 March. Arsenal then host Sporting CP in the Europa League second leg on Thursday 16 March.