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Arsenal 2 - Sporting Lisbon 2: uh sure, whatever

That was definitely a game of football.

Sporting CP v Arsenal FC: Round of 16 Leg One - UEFA Europa League Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images

Arsenal drew Sporting CP 2-2 in Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League Round of 16 tie. Unfortunately, away goals aren’t a thing anymore, so the result in London next week will determine who goes through regardless of the scoreline. Arsenal should be able to take care of business at the Emirates, especially with Sporting missing captain Sebastian Coates and Hidemasa Morita through yellow card suspension. Draw away, win at home — that’s how you’re supposed to do it in Europe, right?

The match was thoroughly entertaining but not very well played. Arsenal were sloppy for most of the game, and their passing was particularly loose in the defensive and middle thirds. They invited far too much unnecessary pressure, in large part because Matt Turner struggled with his distribution. Jorginho was also guilty of giving the ball away too frequently by trying high risk, high reward passes that didn’t come off.

A few notes:

  • Matt Turner hasn’t played much for Arsenal, and you could see the effect of 4 months worth of rust. Today was his worst showing with the ball at his feet, which was the biggest knock on him when he moved to the Emirates. He’s still a capable backup.
  • Jakub Kiwior’s debut was fine. He showed good pace and passing. He and Turner weren’t on the same page on the first Sporting goal. It seems like Kiwior thought Turner was coming to claim the corner, which Turner probably should have. As a result, Kiwior didn’t contest the ball in the air, which resulted in him looking silly and timid on the replay.
  • Arsenal’s set piece defending has regressed significantly since the World Cup. Before the break, the Gunners were conceding 0.18 xG per game. Since the break, that number has nearly doubled to 0.34 xG per game. Sporting scored their first goal from a corner.
  • William Saliba was Arsenal’s best player on the evening. He looks to have rediscovered his early season form after a few poor performances that, to be fair, coincided with the entire team looking off.
  • Takehiro Tomiyasu had a nice bounceback performance in his 20 minute run-out after getting yanked at halftime over the weekend.
  • Jorginho is what he is. He’s a solid backup who is good on the ball but limited athletically and defensively. That limitation was on display when Sporting tried to go over the top against Arsenal.
  • Fabio Vieira was the most involved he’s been in any match all season. Hopefully he’s finally settled in and growing into a role in the formation. He doesn’t exert the same influence as Martin Ødegaard in setting the tempo of the attack, and without the skipper on the field, Arsenal will need to find a way to do that going forward.
  • Reiss Nelson was lively down the left side, consistently beating his man around the corner. He had too quick of a first step and too much pace for his marker. His delivery after was hit-and-miss once he’d beaten his man.
  • Gabriel Martinelli was mostly anonymous in the first half, a by-product of him being moved centrally. He had a tremendous run in the second half that nearly led to a carbon copy of that goal against Chelsea, but a Sporting defender made a tremendous recovery run to take it off him after he’d gone around the keeper.
  • Bukayo Saka was rather quiet on the afternoon, too. It was a combination of Sporting being particularly focused on not letting him beat them and Ødegaard’s absence.

It was neither a particularly good nor a particularly poor performance from Arsenal in the end. It was a game. Mikel Arteta rotated his side, and that’s about what you get with guys who don’t play as much and aren’t as familiar with each other in game situations. The Gunners have Fulham on Sunday before the return leg at the Emirates.