ikel Arteta has warned that Arsenal are currently conceding “too many simple goals” as they approach the business end of a huge season for the club.
The Gunners laboured to a 2-2 draw against Sporting Lisbon in Portugal on Thursday night, a result which will frustrate despite still leaving them in the driving seat to qualify for the Europa League quarter-finals as they host the last-16 second leg at Emirates Stadium next week.
Premier League leaders Arsenal lacked their usual cohesion and rhythm at the Estadio Jose Alvalade, having made six changes to their starting XI amid a busy fixture list and a potentially tricky London derby looming against high-flying Fulham at Craven Cottage on Sunday.
They also shipped two more very avoidable goals in Lisbon as poor play from back-up goalkeeper Matt Turner and debutant Jakub Kiwior initially allowed Goncalo Inacio to head in from a corner and cancel out William Saliba’s opener, with more hesitancy later leading to Paulinho putting Sporting in front in the second half before a Hidemasa Morita own goal sealed a share of the spoils for Arsenal.
It continued a worrying recent trend for the Gunners, who fought back from 2-0 down to beat lowly Bournemouth 3-2 at home in the final seconds in the top-flight last weekend.
On that occasion, Gabriel and centre-back partner Saliba were largely blamed as Philip Billing was allowed to score the second-fastest goal in Premier League history after only 9.11 seconds, while more lax marking at a corner then permitted Marco Senesi to score again with a bullet header.
Arteta recognised that Arsenal are letting in too many simple efforts of late but insisted many of his back-up players needed time to gel into an effective unit when called upon.
“We are conceding too many simple goals and we’ve talked about the importance of boxes, and especially in a competition where you are in or out,” he bemoaned.
“Today we didn’t defend that well enough, and we have to do better up against our opponents. We’ve had a lot of really emotional games recently, and today we made a lot of changes, meaning that cohesion needs some time.
“You could feel that in the first 10-15 minutes that we needed some time to adapt and to click, but if we don’t expose them, that’s never going to happen.”
Arteta insisted that Arsenal must start defending their own penalty area better as he also rued the absence of key attacking players against Sporting in Leandro Trossard and Eddie Nketiah, plus Gabriel Jesus who did not travel despite nearing a return from knee surgery.
“When you concede two poor goals like we did today away from home in Europe, it’s very difficult to get the positive result that we expected,” the Spaniard added.
“I think the game had different phases, especially because we gave too many balls away, too many simple balls in our own half and we gave them hope and we gave them the capacity to go into transition moments that they are good at.
“In the moments we had to take control of the game and we lost a little bit of threat today, especially with the front players that we are missing in our frontline.
“We had some positive because we showed a lot of resilience to get back in the game, but we need to defend our box much better and we have to be in the return leg to beat them.”