Sporting CP 2-2 Arsenal: Spoils Shared at the Iberian Battle
Match Report – Match Highlights – Post-Match Press Conference
Final Result: Sporting CP 2-2 Arsenal (Inacio 34′, Paulinho 55′ | Saliba 22′, Morita OG 62′)
Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Turner; White, Saliba, Kiwior (Gabriel 71′), Zinchenko (Tomiyasu 63′); Jorginho (Partey 71′), Xhaka; Saka, F. Vieira, Nelson (Smith-Rowe 71′); Martinelli
Prior to kickoff, there was talk of illness swapping through the squad with Kieran Tierney, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus affected, but rotations were still expected, as Arsenal gaffer, Mikel Arteta, made six changes to the side that won right at the death against Bournemouth. Matt Turner stepped in between the sticks for Aaron Ramsdale, Jakub Kiwior made his long awaited debut ahead of Gabriel, who was overdue for a rest, Jorginho got the nod ahead of Partey while the likes of Fabio Vieira and goalscoring hero, Reiss Nelson, got starts.
However, it was Sporting CP that drew first blood when their dangerman, Pedro Goncalves, got behind Jorginho and sent William Saliba to the cleaners before side footing a shot that went wide off the mark. Arsenal had the lion’s share of the possession and it took its toll after some pressure led to a corner kick that was swung in by Vieira and nodded home by Saliba. While his teammates celebrated with the big defender for converting yet another set piece, there was some altercation between Oleksandr Zinchenko and the Sporting CP captain, Sebastien Coates. That earned both players a place in the referee’s book, but there was more damage done to the Sporting CP backline, as Coates, who was walking on a tight rope before the match, earned himself a suspension for the second leg next week.
Zinchenko put that fracas behind him and was close to doubling Arsenal’s lead when he blasted a shot at the edge of the area straight to Antonio Adan in goal after his initial freekick was blocked by the wall. Sporting CP’s center forward, Paulinho, held the ball up against Saliba and fed his left center back, Goncalo Inacio, that had made a rare foray to support the attack. Inacio’s low drive was saved superbly by Turner, but the American goalie, and his Polish colleague, Kiwior, wouldn’t cover themselves in glory for the equalizer conceded by Arsenal. Kiwior failed to jump at the ball and Turner was in sixes and sevens as Inacio leapt to repeat the feat Saliba did at the other end 11 minutes earlier.
Sporting CP pressed the Gunners hard, forcing Arteta’s men to make mistakes at the back, but Turner showed great awareness to make a save from Marcus Edwards shot. Just before the halftime whistle, Granit Xhaka made contact with Nelson’s looping cross, which some of the ball had passed the line, but Adan reacted well to make a great save. There was time for some comedy and confusion when the referee handed a yellow card to Gabriel Martinelli, when it was Xhaka that clearly impeded the goalkeeper. It brought back memories of Kieran Gibbs earning a red card for a handball committed by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Right at the end of the half, Turner made a huge mistake to play the ball out from the back and passed the ball straight to Paulinho. Luckily for Turner and Arsenal, Edwards wasn’t on the same wavelength with his strike partner and that great chance for Sporting CP went begging.
The start of the second half was pulsating with end to end stuff from both sides, earning the appreciation of both crowds and surely the viewers watching at home. Sporting CP started the attacking bouts with Francisco Trincao wiggling his way into the danger area and blasting a shot that was saved by Turner, but Hidemasa Morita’s rebound was weak, allowing the goalie to recover and make a routine save. Arsenal launched their own flurry of attacks in quick succession, and it commenced when Zinchenko sent Martinelli clean on goal with an intelligent pass, but the Brazilian chose precision over power, allowing Adan to make a good smart save. Vieira had a chance at the edge of the box and fired just wide. Martinelli got on the end of a beautiful Zinchenko cross and failed to hit the target.
You just had a feeling that Arsenal would be made to rue those misses and it came to pass with Goncalves firing a low drive that was parried by Turner, but his effort went straight to the path of Paulinho that was sandwiched between two Arsenal defenders but reacted quicker than them to guide the ball to an unguarded net. Martinelli had a chance to equalize for Arsenal when he made a lung-bursting incredible solo run, a la Chelsea at Stamford Bridge a few seasons ago, but instead of placing the ball past the keeper, he chose to go round him, allowing Justin St. Juste to make a last-ditch challenge to quell the threat. The game was quite open and the Arsenal defense was left exposed when an over the top ball saw Paulinho bear down on goal with only the keeper to beat but his lack of composure got the better of him as he blasted his effort wide.
That critical miss came back to bite Sporting CP as Arsenal clawed themselves back into the game when Xhaka’s attempted pass to Martinelli was intercepted by Morita, but the goalie was left flat-footed, as the interception turned out to be an embarrassing own goal. The night couldn’t get any worse for Morita, whose yellow card a few minutes earlier ruled him out of the second leg.
Takehiro Tomiyasu came on for Zinchenko and got in on the attacking act when he went to the byline and swung in a cross for Vieira whose header was tipped over the bar by Adan. Loads of substitutions took place afterwards for both sides and the introduction of Thomas Partey, as well as Gabriel, brought some much needed security to the Arsenal backline, and as expected the tempo of the game was slowed down. There was almost time for late drama, and it was served by Bukayo Saka, that managed to evade his markers and blast a shot that was saved by Adan. A few millimeters to the far post, like he did with David de Gea, and Arsenal fans would have gone into delirium.
A draw seemed like a fair result in the grand scale of things, a sentiment shared by captain of the night, Granit Xhaka. Arsenal have it all to do in the second leg, but they will have to return to the Premier League to take on Fulham in their charge to win their first league title in 19 years.
After a quite intense battle in the Iberian peninsula, the spoils were shared, and we have no arguments with that.
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Posted on March 10, 2023, in Arsenal, Europa League, Football, Match Report and tagged Arsenal, Europa League, Football, Sporting CP. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.
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