Arsenal ’s disappointing exit in the Europa League has overshadowed their impressive season in the Premier League which has seen the Gunners lead Manchester City with five points with 11 matches remaining till the end of the season. The defeat was not expected and that may have been one of the factors in Thursday’s gruesome night at the Emirates Stadium.
With 60,000 high-octane supporters singing and having fun as it has been throughout this season, Arsenal took the lead with a cracking goal from Granit Xhaka in the 20th minute to send wild celebrations inside the stadium. Sporting started the game well, dominating the opening 15 minutes before Jorginho found Martinelli with a beautiful through ball which the goalkeeper saved only for Xhaka to smash home the rebound.
Pedro Goncalves scored an outrageous equaliser from near the halfway line in the second half to bring the game level before Gabriel Martinelli’s penalty was saved in the shootout which allowed the Portuguese side to advance to the quarter-finals.
Arsenal have received praises this season because of their performances in the Premier League, their ability to come out of setbacks has been the team’s greatest strength and last night’s defeat to Sporting CP must serve as a reminder that they are not yet the finished product. Mikel Arteta has succeeded in building a team capable of handling setbacks which is why it may be in Arsenal’s advantage not to continue their journey in Europe.
Last season, every defeat took Arsenal three games to recover. A defeat at Brentford on the opening day of the season followed with defeats to Chelsea and Manchester City before a narrow 1-0 win against Norwich City which set them on a 10-game unbeaten run before a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool saw them lose two times in three matches, including a defeat to Everton.
Another defeat to Manchester City on New Year’s day was followed by four games without a win, including a defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA and 0-0 draw with Burnley. The sequence continued throughout the season, losing again to Liverpool, Crystal Palace, Brighton and Hove Albion, Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur and Newcastle United which ultimately cost them a place in the top four.
But this season, Arsenal have lost six times already (3-1 vs Manchester United, 1-3 vs Manchester City and 0-1 vs Everton in the Premier League; 1-3 vs Brighton – League Cup; 0-2 vs PSV – Europa League and 0-1 vs Manchester City – FA Cup). In all these defeats, they have recovered very well in the next game and continue their surge to the PL title which indicates a change in mentality and the quality to overcome difficulties.
The defeat to Sporting should be put in the same box with the other six this season, but this time, it could benefit the Gunners in the title run in. It will allow Arteta to focus on just the ‘11 finals’ in the Premier League which is a game in 5.7 days compared to Manchester City. A run to the final in the Europa League would have added another five fixtures and further stressed the squad. In the event that Man City reach the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup, they will have 16 matches in three competitions from 1st April to 28th May. In other words, a game every three and a half days.
It is also worthy to point out that limited games do not guarantee success and we should have it in mind that Man City have the experience and squad depth to compete on all fronts and go all the way. But then, it’s a minor advantage focusing on just the Premier League title with a squad already looking apart with injuries and illnesses in the last few weeks.
Arsenal will look to turn these agonizing defeats into something positive once the dust settles, since they only have one competition left: the Premier League, starting from this weekend’s visit of Crystal Palace before the international break.