Daily Mail

Crazy night but Arsenal escape

Gunners ride luck on night of mayhem

- DANIEL MATTHEWS at the Estadio Jose Alvalade

AS tea- time approached in Lisbon and players emerged from the tunnel, huge sections of this arena lay quiet and empty. Not many fans. Not much atmosphere, either. an hour later, it was a hive of noise and energy.

By then, chaos had taken centre stage and somehow, at the end of a europa League last-16 first leg that descended into frenzy, arsenal and Sporting were on terms. Somehow, they had shared only four goals.

arsenal will take that. they head into next week’s return leg in command without ever really being in control. this was low on quality and high on carnage, best encapsulat­ed by seven second- half minutes that began with Paulinho putting Sporting ahead and ended with Hidemasa morita putting the ball in his own net. in between? Bedlam.

First, Gabriel martinelli collected possession inside his own half and opted for the impossible. He beat a couple of defenders, bundled through another and suddenly the auxiliary No 9 was through on goal. martinelli rounded the goalkeeper, only for Jeremiah St Juste’s lastditch tackle to prevent an incredible solo goal.

Soon, Sporting were wondering: what if? Fine interplay put Paulinho in behind but he fluffed the chance to kill this game and, moments later, arsenal were level. Granit Xhaka’s attempted pass struck morita and wrong-footed antonio adan. that made it 2-2; then came the comedown — a wild game ended with a whimper.

arsenal won’t care. the Premier League leaders escape with parity.

mikel arteta’s side had led through William Saliba’s early header but the visitors lacked cohesion and, at times, discipline. While Saliba celebrated, Oleksandr Zinchenko sparked a shoving match.

at the other end, former tottenham youngster marcus edwards was a key weapon for Sporting, who sit fourth in Portugal’s top flight and were without ex-Gunner Hector Bellerin. But this tie remains in arsenal’s grasp. Just.

‘When you concede two poor goals like we did, away from home in europe, it’s very difficult to get a positive result,’ said arteta.

‘We showed a lot of resilience to get back in the game but we need to defend our box much better.’

after all of the manager’s secrecy and slippery answers, Gabriel Jesus wasn’t even in the country. the Brazilian is close to returning following knee surgery. But full-fitness eludes him for now. He is not alone — Kieran tierney and martin Odegaard were both unwell. eddie Nketiah and Leandro trossard are both injured.

the reshuffle included a debut for January signing Jakub Kiwior, who had a chastening evening. Particular­ly for the equaliser.

it came via a devilish corner from edwards. the defending, dear me. martinelli allowed Goncalo inacio a run at goal, matt turner stayed on his line, Kiwior decided against heading the ball altogether.

Set-pieces have been a recurring issue. Here, though, arsenal invited chances from everywhere. Yet, had Xhaka’s header crept over the line, the visitors would have led at the break. instead, these teams headed in level. When they returned, all hell broke loose.

First, came a flurry of arsenal chances. then Sporting struck when Pedro Goncalves’ shot was palmed out by turner into the path of Paulinho. alas, that was not the goals. Or the chaos.

‘if you were to ask any Sporting fan before if a draw would be a good result, they’d say yes,’ said Sporting boss Ruben amorim. ‘taking into account the 90 minutes, some will be disappoint­ed.’

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 ?? SHUTTERSTO­CK ?? High and mighty: Saliba rises to give Arsenal the lead
SHUTTERSTO­CK High and mighty: Saliba rises to give Arsenal the lead
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