Arsenal have conceded four goals in two games after shipping two apiece against Bournemouth and Sporting Lisbon; Mikel Arteta insisted his side must improve ‘massively’ in order to prevent defensive frailties creeping into their game; the Gunners face Fulham live on Sky Sports on Sunday
Mikel Arteta urged his much-changed Arsenal side to improve ‘massively’ after they needed to fight back to earn a scrappy 2-2 draw with Sporting Lisbon in the first leg of their Europa League last-16 tie on Thursday.
The Gunners, who made six changes on the night, went ahead in the 22nd minute through William Saliba but were pegged back by Goncalo Inacio’s equaliser 12 minutes later, before Paulinho pounced to make it 2-1.
The visitors finally levelled terms when Hidemasa Morita inadvertently turned Granit Xhaka’s cross through his own net, but Arteta was particularly unhappy his team conceded twice for the second successive game – having fallen behind by two goals to Bournemouth at the weekend.
“It’s true that it’s something that we must improve massively if we want to keep winning games,” he told BT Sport.
“When you concede two poor goals like we did away from home in Europe it’s very difficult to get a positive result. We gave too many simple balls away.
“Today we didn’t defend well enough, and we have to do better up against our opponents.”
Arteta also said Arsenal lacked their usual attacking ‘cohesion’ owing to the absence of some key players, including striker Gabriel Jesus, who is yet to reach full fitness after suffering a knee injury at the Qatar World Cup.
“We had some positives because we showed a lot of resilience to get back in the game,” he continued. “But we need to defend our box much better and we have to be in the return leg to beat them.
“In other moments we had total control of the game and we lost a little bit of threat today, especially with the four players we are missing in our frontline.
“We’ve played some really emotional games recently. We made a lot of changes today and sometimes that takes time to get that cohesion. You could feel in the first 15 minutes that it needed some time to adapt and click. If we don’t expose them, though, that’s never going to happen.”
The second leg will be played at the Emirates on March 16.
The Premier League leaders, who hold a five-point lead over second-placed Manchester City, travel to Fulham, live on Sky Sports, on Sunday.
Return of Jesus can spark Arsenal attack
Analysis by Sky Sports’ David Richardson:
The long-awaited return of Gabriel Jesus will arrive at a crucial time for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal.
“We lacked a bit of that final touch but we are missing four key attackers so we will take the draw,” said Arteta after their 2-2 draw with Sporting.
It would have been tempting to have included Jesus in the squad for their Europa League first leg after the striker returned to training this week.
But Arsenal have not been rushing him back, knowing there is enough of the season left for him to make a crucial impact, even in the second leg of this tie.
Gabriel Martinelli was deployed up front in Jesus and Eddie Nketiah’s absence. Leandro Trossard is also sidelined which left Emile Smith Rowe as the only ‘senior’ forward among the substitutes.
Arsenal dominated possession throughout although Sporting created more clear-cut chances. The visitors ran out of ideas in the last 20 minutes and had little to call upon from the bench.
Jesus can provide a timely lift with 12 huge Premier League fixtures and a rematch with Sporting to go.