‘Expensive defeat’ to Sporting Lisbon could be the ‘blessing’ Arsenal need – Keown

Joe Williams
Arsenal legend Martin Keown

Arsenal legend Martin Keown thinks the Gunners’ exit from the Europa League could be a “blessing” in their pursuit of the Premier League title.

After being held 2-2 in the first leg in Portugal, Arsenal and Sporting Lisbon could not be separated after 120 minutes of action in the second leg.

An incredible goal by Pedro Goncalves got Sporting back on level terms on 62 minutes after Granit Xhaka had given Arsenal a first-half lead and the game eventually headed to penalties.

Gabriel Martinelli missed the Gunners’ crucial spot-kick as the Portuguese side won 5-3 on penalties and progressed to the last 16 of the Europa League.

Arsenal are currently top of the Premier League and five points clear of second-placed Manchester City as the race for the title enters its final phase.

And Keown thinks their defeat to Sporting could give Arsenal an edge in the battle for the title with Man City still playing in the Champions League.

“There’s disappointment for Arsenal but you wonder, is this a blessing? Does it affect the momentum? I think not. There were a couple of injuries [though] so it could be an expensive defeat,” Keown told BT Sport.

“But it almost seemed a game too many. Arsenal weren’t even in Europe last season. Maybe it is a blessing they have gone out.

“The Premier League is looming so large [and now] they can go at it wholeheartedly. Arsenal are trying to hang on to Manchester City but we shouldn’t be that surprised they have fallen foul with all the changes [against Sporting].

“They so desperately want to win the Premier League and it was too much to change their focus to another tournament.”

But Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was gutted to exit the competition, the Spaniard said: “A huge blow. We really wanted to go through and fight in the competition and go for it.

“Today, we tried for 120 minutes and the penalties, and it wasn’t enough. First of all, congratulations to Sporting CP for going through. Looking at ourselves the game started difficult for us. Obviously, we lost Tomi very early in the game and we lost Saliba.

“That really left us with a difficult in-game management. We only had a window to make the subs, and a few players could not play 90 minutes. But still, we didn’t find our rhythm and our flow. We allowed too many spaces, were late and didn’t win enough duels there. We gave the ball away many, many times.

“Sometimes time after time. And then the last 20 minutes, we got the flow and the momentum, we got into the final third much more and created three big chances, and we didn’t score.

“I think when we went to extra-time, we showed incredible energy again and top mentality when it wasn’t our best day to keep going. We had another two big chances, we didn’t win and at the end it comes to the penalties, it’s a lottery, and today it didn’t go our way.”

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