Deep Europa League run can boost Arsenal title chances, insists Mikel Arteta

 (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
(Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Mikel Arteta believes the best way for Arsenal to maintain momentum in the title race is by going on a run in the Europa League.

Arsenal are currently five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League and now have to contend with midweek European football returning.

After receiving a bye through the last round, the Gunners face Sporting Lisbon tonight in the first leg of their last-16 tie — and Arteta is planning to name a strong team in the belief that winning in Europe will add fuel to their title charge.

The Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup in January by Manchester City and that started a run of four games without a win.

“Our priority is the two competitions,” said Arteta. “Obviously, we have to earn the right to continue in this competition to get as far as we want and we’re going to face a really difficult opponent.

Belief growing: Arsenal head to Portugal in confident mood after their last-gasp heroics (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)
Belief growing: Arsenal head to Portugal in confident mood after their last-gasp heroics (Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

“The best way to prepare for any competition is to win the previous match and having the confidence and the proper emotion to approach the next game. If we play well and we are able to win the game, that will better prepare us for the next one.”

Arteta is expected to make changes tonight, as he is without Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard, Kieran Tierney and Mohamed Elneny through injury or illness.

Jorginho and Granit Xhaka should come into the midfield, while Rob Holding will hope to get a rare start in defence.

Arteta has largely trusted a core group of players this season, and he admits it is difficult to keep everyone happy.

“Everybody wants to play,” he said. “Sometimes it’s difficult, but players have to deserve to play the minutes and being fair in football is very difficult. You have to be really good at communicating your decisions. We want everyone to feel important, but we have to do what’s best for the team.”

Tierney is one of those who has struggled for minutes, with Oleksandr Zinchenko taking his spot in the team - leading to transfer links to Newcastle.

“He understands the situation and he needs to challenge the situation,” said Arteta. “He knows his role - under me he has played a lot, probably more than any other player including the previous players that were at the club during the past three years.”