LONDON – Arsenal’s Europa League exit has brought “clarity” to their season and the squad must now focus on their Premier League title charge, manager Mikel Arteta said on Thursday.
The Gunners drew 1-1 with Sporting Lisbon in London, with the tie finishing 3-3 on aggregate before the Portuguese side advanced to the quarter-finals with a 5-3 penalty shoot-out victory.
Arteta’s men have been eliminated from all three Cup competitions they were involved in but are five points clear in the Premier League and in position to win a first English top-flight title since 2004.
They have 11 games left to play, starting with the visit of Crystal Palace on Sunday.
Palace are 12th in the league and have gone 12 games without a win in all competitions, culminating in the club confirming on Friday that they have sacked manager Patrick Vieira.
“It’s a huge blow, but it brings clarity to the season,” Arteta said of his team’s Europa League exit.
“It’s 11 games to play for, 11 Premier League games, and a big final against Crystal Palace. The focus has to be there, the energy has to be there and (we must) learn from tonight.
“The best thing is now the reaction and showing the same commitment, more quality and playing better against Palace to beat them.”
The Arsenal boss was dealt a double injury blow when Takehiro Tomiyasu had to be substituted early on and fellow defender William Saliba limped off shortly after.
“Tomiyasu looks pretty serious, for his reaction straight away and what he said to me,” Arteta said.
“Obviously, it’s very early and difficult to know. William, I don’t know. He had some discomfort and could not carry on, so we had to take him off.”
Although Arsenal crashed out, it was Sporting who trailed initially when Granit Xhaka gave the Gunners the lead in the first half at the Emirates.
But Portugal midfielder Pedro Goncalves forced extra time when he beat Arsenal goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale with a breathtaking strike from 42 metres.
His audacious goal was reminiscent of David Beckham’s long-range lob for Manchester United against Wimbledon that launched him to superstardom in 1996.
In the shoot-out, Sporting emerged with a shock victory as Gabriel Martinelli’s effort was saved by Antonio Adan and Nuno Santos dispatched the winning kick.
“There were moments in the first 75 minutes where we weren’t at our level. We gave every ball away and we didn’t have the capacity to take the game,” Arteta added.
“We had big chances to finish the game. We have to look at ourselves and why we were not good enough to go through.”
There were positives, however, as Arteta gave Brazil forward Gabriel Jesus his first start since undergoing knee surgery following his injury at the 2022 Qatar World Cup.
Jesus, who came off the bench against Fulham last Sunday for his first appearance since the injury, nearly marked his return with a goal as he stretched to reach Reiss Nelson’s cross, forcing Adan to save at full stretch.
While Arsenal lost, Marcus Rashford’s swerving strike from distance earned United a 1-0 win at Real Betis and passage to the quarter-finals with a 5-1 aggregate triumph.
The forward’s brilliant goal early in the second half saw the game out comfortably as Betis’ energy levels dipped.
“Once you score the first goal, the game is gone, and they don’t have the belief any more,” said United manager Erik ten Hag.
“That is another step (forward) we made, mentality, a winning attitude, to deal with that.”
It was Rashford’s sixth goal in the tournament and his 27th across all competitions this season, in 43 appearances.
“Rashy had some chances before, and he missed some but he kept his belief, he kept trying and got his reward,” added ten Hag. REUTERS, AFP