By Mark Mann-Bryans, PA, Lisbon
Arsenal’s Europa League hopes are finely poised after a topsy-turvy first leg of their last-16 clash with Sporting Lisbon ended in an entertaining draw.
The Gunners came from behind to draw 2-2 after Mikel Arteta made six changes to the side which secured a last-gasp victory over Bournemouth on Saturday to remain five points clear at the top of the Premier League.
A William Saliba header had Arsenal ahead but goals either side of half-time from Goncalo Inacio and Paulinho put Sporting in the driving seat.
A Hidemasa Morita own goal saw the visitors secure a draw to take back to the Emirates Stadium next week, where they will be hoping to advance to the quarter-finals.
Pre-match talk had been dominated by speculation of Gabriel Jesus’ potential involvement but he did not travel to Portugal as the forward continues his recovery from knee surgery.
Captain Martin Odegaard did make the trip but missed out through illness as centre-back Jakub Kiwior was handed his debut having signed in January.
The Gunners would hit the front just before the midway point of the first half as Saliba rose to head home a Fabio Vieira corner, with the home side fuming that the goal was not chalked off for what they felt was a foul on Matheus Reis.
Sporting would draw level as Inacio’s low shot was turned around a post by Matt Turner before the defender nodded in the resulting corner, with debutant Kiwior rooted to the spot as the set-piece was swung in.
Turner had to be alert again moment later, getting down low again to push wide a Marcus Edwards drive as the former Tottenham man looked to turn the tide.
With neither side able to get a firm grip on possession, Granit Xhaka almost restored Arsenal’s lead with a back-post header which Adan just about kept from crossing the line.
Gabriel Martinelli, deployed as the central striker with both Jesus and Eddie Nketiah sidelined, had a decent chance at the start of the second half but his deft chip was pushed behind.
But, as with the first 45 minutes, there was little pattern to the game and Sporting were soon back on the attack, taking the lead for the first time as Turner made a good save from Goncalves with Paulinho on hand to tap in the rebound.
Martinelli almost produced a moment of individual magic as he ran from his own half, beating three men before rounding the goalkeeper only to be challenged at the final moment by a backtracking Jerry St Juste.
Sporting created the next chance, Paulinho all too easily getting in behind the Arsenal defence but blazing his shot high and wide.
Arteta’s side soon made their hosts pay for such a bad miss, Xhaka’s attempted ball into the box deflecting off Morita and past Adan to level the game once more.
Vieira drew a smart stop out of Adan with Arsenal looking to strike while the iron was hot but, even with Arteta going to his bench to introduce the likes of Thomas Partey and Emile Smith Rowe, they had to settle for a draw.