Arsenal’s challenge for the Premier League title is made harder after Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba were injured in their defeat to Sporting Lisbon
Arsenal’s defeat to Sporting Lisbon and exit from the Europa League was compounded on Thursday night by injuries to Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba.
The Gunners were eliminated from the competition by Sporting on penalties after the tie ended 3–3 on aggregate after extra time at the Emirates Stadium. Granit Xhaka put Arsenal ahead on 19 minutes, but Sporting equalized through a stunning long-range goal from Pedro Goncalves. Gabriel Martinelli then saw his penalty saved as the Portuguese side won 5–3 in the shootout to progress to the quarter-finals.
Mikel Arteta made five changes to the team that beat Fulham 3-0 on Sunday, but his rotation efforts failed to have the desired effect. Tomiyasu had to be replaced by Ben White just nine minutes into the game after injuring himself while lunging for a tackle. The Japan international was later seen leaving the stadium on crutches.
Things went from bad to worse in the 21st minute when Saliba also had to retire after apparently injuring his back. Arsenal are five points ahead of Manchester City in the Premier League title race and injuries were the last thing Arteta wanted from their Europa League performances.
“Tomiyasu looks pretty serious from his reaction [away] and what he said to me, but obviously it’s very early,” he said at his pre-game press conference. “Willie? I don’t know, he was in some discomfort and couldn’t continue, so we had to take him out.”
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Asked about the long-term consequences of the injuries, Arteta added: “We’ve had injuries all season. We had Emily [Smith Rowe] four months out, [Gabriel] Jesus for four months, Thomas [Partey] for a month and a half, Alex [Zinchenko] for two and a half months, Eddie [Nketiah] for a month and a half. We already had a lot of injuries, but we processed them.
“The disappointment will not go away, it is there now. But there is also clarity. There are now 11 games left and we have a final against Crystal Palace. We have to recover and put all our focus on it and win.”
Saliba has played every minute of the Premier League for Arsenal this season, forming a strong partnership with Gabriel Magalhaes in central defense. He was replaced against Sporting by Rob Holding and the defender can play against Palace on Sunday in the Premier League.
There was one piece of positive injury news, with Jesus making his first start since suffering a serious knee injury while playing for Brazil at the World Cup. He played the first half before being withdrawn for Leandro Trossard in a scheduled half-time substitution.
“We decided to do that because we had to manage the substitutions,” Arteta explains. “Thank God we got it out, especially after the two windows we had to use in the first half. That was the plan.
“Leo is also coming out of injury and we knew the game could go to extra time and we had to deal with that. He looked good.”