An entertaining night’s action in Lisbon tonight saw Sporting and Arsenal share four goals in a back-and-forth encounter.
William Saliba opened the scoring for the visitors from a corner, with Gonçalo Inácio responding in kind to make it 1-1 at the break. Sporting took the lead through Paulinho but the striker then missed a golden opportunity to make it 3-1, and an unlucky Morita own goal made it all square.
For Sporting Héctor Bellerín was denied the opportunity to face his former club having picked up an injury in training yesterday, Ricardo Esgaio taking the right wing-back berth. Pedro Gonçalves was again pulled back into midfield given the suspension to Manuel Ugarte.
Arsenal coach Mikel Arteta resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes as the Londoners chase the Premier League title, choosing an almost full-strength team, with the exceptions of Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Magalhães who were rested, Jakub Kiwior and Fábio Vieira getting rare starts. Riess Nelson was also rewarded for his weekend heroics against Bournemouth with a slot in the starting XI.
Arsenal take the initiative
The pattern on the match was set from the kick off, with the visitors dominating possession and keeping the ball in Sporting’s defensive half almost permanently.
However, it was the home side who carved out the first clear chance, Pote latching onto a fine Gonçalo Inácio pass over the top, cutting into the box, and sliding a low shot not far wide.
It was a rare occasion in a cagey match though, with Arsenal continuing to look the more threatening and the Gunners took the lead midway through the half with as simple a goal as they come. Fábio Vieira swung over a cross which William Saliba rose to nod into the net practically unchallenged, the referee waving away Sporting protests of a foul in the scrum.
In the ensuing melee, Sporting captain Sebastián Coates was shown a yellow card after getting into a heated discussion with Oleksandr Zinchenko and will miss the second leg through suspension.
Inácio to the fore
Ten minutes later and Sporting hit back in identical fashion. Gonçalo Inácio forced a corner with a terrific 25-yarder that Matt Turner had to turn around the post, but the centre-back stayed up and nodded Marcus Edwards delivery into the net, again with very suspect marking from the defenders.
Edwards then tried his luck from 25 yards, Turner sprawling to make a diving save.
Chances were now coming thick and fast, a combination of Adán and the post keeping out Xhaka’s header. Xhaka then swung in a wicked cross that required a brave forward dive from Adán to avert a final touch from a line of Arsenal attackers waiting to score.
A mix-up in the Arsenal box almost gifted Sporting the lead but Edwards was not alert to the chance and the teams went into the break all square at 1-1.
FT Sporting Clube de Portugal 2-2 Arsenal. Paulinho missed a great chance to make it 3-1, but it was a fair result with the Lions still in the tie. Will be an interesting 2nd leg in London. pic.twitter.com/G3E2bmcbqH— Matthew Marshall (@noobzcorp) March 9, 2023
The second half started with a bang, Trincão sprinting down the left flank and crossing, the ball eventually falling to Morita whose shot was easily saved by Turner.
Play switched to the other end of the pitch with Adán saving what looked like a certain Martineli goal by spreading himself well when the Brazilian was clean through.
Vieira thumped a 20-yard shot just past the post and a well-worked move resulted in a Zinchenko cross that Martineli headed over as Sporting seemed in danger of getting overrun.
But it was the hosts who would take the lead for the first time on the night in the 54th minute. Edwards slipped a clever pass to Pote in the box, his first-time shot was parried by Turner and Paulinho was on hand to pounce onto the rebound. 2-1 Sporting and the home supporters erupted in joy.
In an extremely open match Martineli almost hit straight back as he embarked on a wonder dribble, leaving three Sporting players trailing in his wake on the halfway line. As the Brazil forward rounded Adán a certain goal was prevented by a wonderful St. Juste last-ditch tackle.
In the 58th minute Hidemasa Morita picked up a yellow card which also rules him out of the return match next week.
Just after the hour mark Sporting missed a golden chance to increase their advantage. A quick counter-attack saw Pote show skilful feet and an astute football mind to play Paulinho clean through. With just Turner to beat, the Sporting striker blazed his effort horribly high and wide.
Seconds later Sporting were made to pay. Pote lost ball to a Saka challenge who passed to Xhaka, and the Swiss midfielder’s attempted pass into the box deflected off Morita and dribbled into the corner of the net with Adán stranded.
The lively Fábio Vieira then saw a header brilliantly saved by Adán, the Spanish goalkeeper tipping the ball over the bar.
Sporting substitute Diomande again looked assured in a short cameo, even firing a fierce long-range shot not far wide.
However, the hosts ran out of gas as the clock ticked down, with Arsenal pushing for a winner late on. In stoppage time Saka cut inside, shot powerfully, but straight into Adán’s midriff.
Both teams will be reasonably happy with the result, and while Arsenal will start the second leg hot favourites to progress, the Lions travel to England next week still very much in the tie.
By Tom Kundert, at the José Alvalade stadium
[0-1] William Saliba, 22’
[1-1] Gonçalo Inácio, 34’
[2-1] Paulinho, 55’
[2-2] Hidemasa Morita (own goal), 62’