A much-changed Arsenal took the lead in Portugal through William Saliba but they were quickly pegged back with Goncalo Inacio heading home from a corner following hesitancy from goalkeeper Matt Turner.
And the visitors fell behind 10 minutes after the restart courtesy of Paulinho’s strike before an own goal by Japan midfielder Hidemasa Morita ensured Arsenal left with a draw.
“We knew before the game it is tough to play here,” Xhaka told BT Sport. “It is always tough to play against a Portuguese team, they are well disciplined, tough and have good players technically, but we have to take the 2-2 and finish the game in London.
“We started okay in the game, but the two goals we conceded was too easy at this level, that cannot happen.
“In the second half we had a lot of control, we could have won the game but also could have lost the game so that is why we take the draw.”
Gunnes boss Mikel Arteta – who made six changes but handed starts to Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli – insists he will take “some positives” from the performance, although he also called the defence into question.
“Considering you concede two goals away from home and still escape with a draw you have to take some positives,” he said. “But we gave them too much hope by giving the ball away in our own half too many times.
“We had control for long periods but we lacked a bit of that final touch but we are missing four key attackers so we will take the draw.
“At 2-1 we lose the runner and they had a chance to make it 3-1, a lot of things to improve but we showed a lot of resiliency and we are still in the tie.
“Making six changes you lose a bit of the cohesion but we had to make the changes because some are unavailable and others had to play out of position but they did well.”
The result leaves the second leg, to be played on March 16 at The Emirates, finely poised.
Arteta concluded: “Everything is still to play for and we get to play at home and now we have to show that we are the better team.”
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