premier-league

Arsenal must forget the Europa League, they may never get a better chance to win the title

Arsenal’s last-gasp win over Manchester United felt like a title-winning moment, a victory to silence the doubters, calm nerves and flood Mikel Arteta’s men with belief.

Arsenal are five points ahead of Manchester City with a game in hand and theoretically could still lose twice to the champions, who they face in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday and home and away in the league at the end of April. and remains at the top of the table.

Frankly, Arsenal don’t look like losing twice to anyone, not even a club who overtook soon-to-be European champions Liverpool from a similar position to win the title in 2019/20 and appear to be galvanized by their comeback against Tottenham last week.

However, given the convoluted calendar and the sheer amount of football already played this season, it’s easy to forget that Arsenal are only halfway through their Premier League campaign.

Wild scenes of celebration after beating Manchester United. (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

There is still a long road ahead, filled with potential holes, and the biggest danger for Mikel Arteta is surely stretching his squad too thin.

As well as facing City in the FA Cup on Friday, Arsenal resume their Europa League campaign in the last 16 in March. Victory at the Etihad Stadium and the Gunners will be heavy favorites to win a 15th FA Cup – ahead of Manchester United, with Chelsea and Newcastle already out of the competition and Spurs and Liverpool struggling for form.

The Europa League is also very winnable. British clubs always do well in the competition when they don’t actually care, and in the past decade Chelsea (twice), Liverpool, United (twice), Arsenal and even Rangers have all reached the final.

Arteta’s fine-tuned Arsenal side are better than all of the above and will go into the last 16 with the shortest odds of all the remaining clubs to reach Budapest on May 31.

The question for Arteta is whether he believes Arsenal have enough depth to compete on two or even three fronts in the second half of the most grueling campaign in history. There are obvious comparisons between Arsenal and Leicester’s title-winning side of 2015/16, both in their dramatic improvement from the previous campaign and in the way they benefited from other challengers stuttering.

There is little depth in Arsenal’s: from Saliba to Holding, Elneny cannot replicate Partey’s influence, and Vieira has yet to convince as an understudy for Odegaard

City are having an off year (so far), United and Newcastle are promising but continue to rebuild, and Liverpool and Chelsea are both in transition.

Arsenal are better than Claudio Ranieri’s Leicester, but the Foxes’ big advantage seven years ago was their lack of European football.

The Gunners do not have that luxury and when the Europa League resumes this spring, assuming Arsenal are still in a position of strength in the Premier League, the competition will test Arteta’s squad to the limit. While all four Champions League clubs struggled with the intensity of the schedule in the first half of the campaign, Arteta was able to make changes as Arsenal navigated their Europa League group and he has barely had to rotate his XI. Seven Arsenal players have started all 19 Premier League games.

Certainly, when they have lost players, others have stepped up. Eddie Nketiah, who scored twice against United, including a stoppage time winner, has deputized superbly for Gabriel Jesus, matching the Brazilian’s work rate and goals. Kieran Tierney has played well filling in for Oleksandar Zinchenko. However, there is less depth at the back of Arteta’s team. They have added cover at centre-half in Jakub Kiwior, but the drop in quality from Gabriel and William Saliba to the young Polish international and Rob Holding is significant.

The same is the case in midfield, where Mohamed Elneny cannot replicate Thomas Partey’s influence, and summer signing Fabio Vieira has yet to convince as an understudy for Martin Odegaard. Goaltender Aaron Ramsdale would also be a significant loss for an extended period of time.

Playing his big guns in Europe risks injury or burnout, which could be costly for an influx that will test the mentality of Arteta’s young squad.

There will be other opportunities to win FA Cups and winning the Europa League, while a significant achievement, is rarely particularly memorable for England’s top clubs. It’s also a competition Arsenal will be hoping to avoid for the foreseeable future.

However, winning the Premier League title in an era of City, Liverpool and the rest would be a remarkable achievement, especially considering where Arsenal have come from.

Given the fierce competition in the top flight, they may not have a better chance of winning a historic crown for many years yet.

Arteta may argue that his rebuild has yet to peak, that Arsenal are now ready for a sustained challenge as challengers, but next season is likely to be more difficult already as they return to the Champions League – and with United continuing their rebuild and Liverpool, Chelsea and possibly Spurs are also likely to improve.

Unlike Arsene Wenger, Arteta is never going to throw any competition away by playing the kids and the 40-year-old will be wary that winning is a habit and that it is dangerous to waste momentum in any competition.

However, it is clear that Arsenal should prioritize the League above all else and ensure they capitalize on their position of strength, despite the potential weakness in their squad.

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