The Gunners made the trip to the Estadio Jose Alvalade aiming to return to North London with a healthy advantage ahead of next week’s second-leg at the Emirates. However, it was actually the hosts who started the brighter of the two sides.
Arsenal couldn’t celebrate for too long given around 10 minutes later, Sporting were level with an almost identical goal. Goncalo Inacio rose highest to head beyond Matt Turner and thwart the Gunners’ lead.
10 minutes into the second half and the game was flipped entirely on its head, with Paulinho putting Sporting in front after Turner could only parry an effort back into the danger zone.
The goal-scorer should have really put Sporting 3-1 up soon after, but fired wide with just Turner to beat. Within seconds Arsenal had drawn level in freak circumstances, Granit Xhaka’s pass deflecting off of Hidemasa Morita and into the back of the net.
January signing Jakub Kiwior was handed his first minutes as an Arsenal player nearly two months after he first arrived from Spezia for £21million.
Those who have kept a keen eye on the Poland international’s progression will know one of Kiwior’s strongest traits is his passing ability and all-round technincal quality.
Despite his significant height, Sporting’s first goal would suggest Kiwior still has some work to do in the air.
The debutant remained rooted to the spot when he really should have jumped to head clear the corner that Sporting equalised from. Kiwior’s positioning could be questioned for the host’s second as well.
Given Arsenal are sitting five points clear at the top of the Premier League, some sections of the Gunners faithful may have been hoping to see Arteta field some fringe players for a Europa League game.
However, the boss has long made clear he expects his star players to be able to play three times a week and that is what is evidently required of the likes of Saka, Martinelli and Saliba to name just three.
With that in mind, the Spaniard did make six changes to the team that beat Bournemouth on Saturday and for context, the most changes Arteta has made between league games is three.
The tricky trip to Fulham that awaits Arsenal on Sunday in the league was clearly not in Arteta’s mind given he named a very strong line-up for the trip to Sporting, with the aforementioned trio joining the likes of Zinchenko, Ben White and Granit Xhaka as players who will likely play at the weekend.
Vieira shines back home
In what was a scrappy affair at times with plenty of loose balls, it was Fabio Vieira who stood out among those in an Arsenal shirt.
He was often subject to boos and jeers from the Sporting crowd given his past ties to their rivals Porto, but Vieira didn’t seem to let it phase him as he pulled the strings and was at the heart of all things positive for the Gunners.
Vieira has been questioned at times this season after his £35m switch last summer, but in Lisbon he looked much closer to the player that registered a goal or an assist every 66 minutes last season.
His assist for Saliba’s header was delightful, with the perfectly weighted cross containing the right amount of height and curve to leave Sporting’s defence rendered helpless.
If the Portugual under-21 international can produce the kind of form he does in his home country back in London, Arsenal could be on to a winner.