Arsenal draw with Sporting in first-leg thriller

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta says his side need to “improve massively” if they want to keep winning games after beating Sporting Lisbon’s Gunners in an entertaining Europa League round of 16 first leg.

French defender William Saliba put the Premier League leaders ahead with a superb header before Sporting capitalized on poor defense to score both sides of half-time through Goncalo Inacio and Paulinho.

An own goal from the hosts’ Japanese midfielder Hidemasa Morita ensured Arsenal start level in next Thursday’s (20:00 GMT) second leg at the Emirates Stadium.

However, Arteta was unimpressed that his side had conceded two goals in their second game in a row.

“It’s true that we need to improve massively if we want to keep winning games,” said the Spaniard.

“When you concede two weak goals, like we did away in Europe, it’s very difficult to get a positive result.

“We gave away too many easy balls. We have to defend our penalty area much better.”

In a thrilling game in the Portuguese capital, Arsenal’s first-half lead lasted just 12 minutes before Inacio equalized after keeper Matt Turner’s hesitation.

Paulinho gave Sporting a close-range lead only for Arsenal to equalize with a nasty deflection from Morita.

Both teams created numerous chances in a free-flowing encounter.

Sporting’s former Tottenham winger Marcus Edwards was denied by Turner when the score was 1-1, while Paulinho missed a great chance to make it 3-1.

Arsenal had a chance to regain the lead but Fabio Vieira’s header was blocked by Antonio Adan.

Arteta faces a balancing act in Arsenal’s trophy hunt

Arsenal have been chasing a first Premier League title since 2003/04 but Arteta clearly sees the Europa League as something worth winning rather than a distraction from the top prize.

Despite making six substitutions, he set up several key players in Portugal ahead of Sunday’s London derby in Fulham (14:00), including Gabriel Martinelli – Arsenal’s top scorer in the Premier League – and Bukayo Saka.

In seven days’ time there is nothing to play in the second leg against Sporting, but Arteta’s side need to improve defensively if they hope to advance to the quarter-finals against opponents who started the season in the Champions League.

Poland defender Jakub Kiwior made his first Arsenal appearance since joining from Serie A side Spezia for £17.6million in January, while Turner put in a mixed performance after replacing first-choice goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale.

The Gunners have been sloppy at times and the two goals they conceded were poor by their recent standards, but just like at the weekend against Bournemouth, they showed character after falling behind and continue to look dangerous up front.

Martinelli failed after trying to slap the ball over the keeper early in the second half before the Brazilian striker was sure to score after an excellent solo run, only to be thwarted by a timely tackle from Jeremiah St Juste.

Games are getting tighter and faster for the Gunners and Arteta faces a delicate balancing act as his side chase domestic and European honours.

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“If you want to progress in this competition you have to go through difficult moments,” said the Arsenal manager. “We’re still alive and hopefully we’ll play better in the Emirates.”

Arsenal reached the last 16 by topping their group with five wins from six games

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