Forget about the Europa League! Arsenal's Premier League title chances just got a big boost

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The Gunners' chances of domestic glory could have been boosted by their early European exit at the hands of Sporting C.P.

When Mikel Arteta sat down in front of the press immediately after Arsenal’s Europa League defeat at the hands of Sporting C.P. on Thursday, there was an obvious sense of disappointment. This was not a man who looked like he was in any way relieved to be out of Europe’s second tier competition.

But, there was a clear message from Arteta despite his disappointment and that centred around the "clarity" that the defeat had brought to Arsenal’s season.

“There are 11 games to play now,” he said. “Eleven Premier League games. The disappointment is not going to go away, but it brings clarity. There are 11 games and that’s the only focus that we have. Everybody is thinking about one thing.”

The Europa League was a competition Arsenal were taking seriously. Arteta may have made changes for both legs against Sporting, using the ties as an opportunity to rest some of his more trusted stars. But he wanted to go through. He wanted to win the trophy and he wanted to end Arsenal’s long wait for European success.

  1. “It was a big blow for us”

    “It was a big blow for us”

    That is now not going to happen, so Arsenal have to look for the positives - and there are some.

    There is no doubt that their chances of going on and winning the Premier League have been boosted by their relatively early exit from Europe. That "clarity" that Arteta was so keen to talk about is undeniable. There are now no distractions, no long and energy-sapping trips across to the continent. Arsenal have one focus and one focus only, and that is winning the Premier League title.

    Whether they go on and do it, remains to be seen. But their chances are now certainly higher than they would have been had they also had European football to worry about. Arteta knows it and the players know it.

    “It was a big blow for us,” captain Martin Odegaard said on Thursday. “We wanted to do something special in this competition. But also it is straightforward now, we only have the league to focus on. 

    “There are obviously less games and we have to make the most of that, and make sure we finish well.”

  2.  A squad still lacking in strength
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    A squad still lacking in strength

    What the Europa League has shown Arsenal this season, though, is that the squad is not yet ready to really compete on both domestic and European fronts.

    Arteta’s first XI and a few of his first-choice substitutes, or "impacters" as he likes to now call them, are clearly good enough to compete with any team that is put in front of them. But when the Spaniard makes wholesale changes, the drop-off is still vast, despite the smart recruitment policy Arsenal have operated towards in recent transfer windows.

    So the fact Arteta’s side can now go through until the end of the season with only one midweek fixture to deal with - the crucial away game at Manchester City on April 26 - is a massive plus.

    The injuries to Takehiro Tomiyasu and William Saliba during the early stages of the Sporting defeat were a stark reminder of perils that the extra workload brought about by European competition can bring. Arteta does not have the embarrassment of riches that Pep Guardiola has when it comes to the size and strength of his squad.

    Arsenal have coped impressively well to the setbacks they have suffered the season in terms of player availability. And they have had setbacks, even if Erik ten Hag believes otherwise.

  3. Eleven games to go
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    Eleven games to go

    Key players have missed significant parts of the season, but Arteta’s squad has managed to find a way to keep winning.

    But with the season now reaching such a crucial stage, Arsenal’s manager will be desperate to keep all of his star names fit. He will have a much better chance of doing that without the distraction of European competition.

    Sporting have been drawn against Juventus in the Europa League quarter-finals. If they progress, they would then have to face Manchester United in the semi-finals, providing United get past Sevilla.

    Had that been Arsenal, those fixtures would not have allowed Arteta to rest his star names, and that would have put even more pressure on them during the Premier League title run-in. So the benefits of Thursday night’s Europa League exit are clear.

    Clearly, Arenal wanted to stay in the competition and the sense of disappointment about how they went out will be difficult to just brush aside. But that’s what they have to do now. They do not have time to lick their wounds and feel sorry for themselves.

    Arsenal now have 11 games standing between themselves and a first Premier League title in 19 years. Never has their task been clearer.